The genetics of celiac disease: A comprehensive review of clinical implications

J Autoimmun. 2015 Nov:64:26-41. doi: 10.1016/j.jaut.2015.07.003. Epub 2015 Jul 17.


Celiac disease (CD) is a complex immune-related disease with a very strong genetic component. Multiple genetic findings over the last decade have added to the already known MHC influence numerous genetic variants associated to CD susceptibility. Currently, it is well-established that 6 MHC and 39 non-MHC loci, including a higher number of independent genetic variants, are associated to disease risk. Moreover, additional regions have been recently implicated in the disease, which would increase the number of involved loci. Together, the firmly described genetic variants account for roughly 31% of CD heritability, being 25% explained by the MHC influence. These new variants represent markers of disease risk and turn the identification of the causal genes and the causal variants inside the associated loci, as well as their precise biological role on the disease, into a major challenge in CD research. Numerous studies have been developed with this aim showing the high impact of risk variants on gene expression. These studies also indicate a central role of CD4(+) T cells in CD pathogenesis and point to B cells as important players, which is in accordance with the key steps highlighted by the immunological models of pathogenesis. We comprehensively summarize the current knowledge about the genetic architecture of CD, characterized by multiple low-risk variants located within diverse loci which are most likely affecting genes with immune-related functions. These findings are leading to a better understanding of CD pathogenesis and helping in the design of new treatments. The repertoire of potential drug targets for CD has largely broadened last years, bringing us closer to get alternative or complementary treatments to the life-long gluten-free diet, the only effective treatment so far. Epigenetics and microbiota are emerging as potent factors modulating disease risk and putatively affecting disease manifestation, which are also being explored as therapeutic targets.

Keywords: Celiac disease; Epigenetics; Gene expression; HLA; Microbiota.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Celiac Disease / epidemiology
  • Celiac Disease / genetics*
  • Celiac Disease / immunology
  • Celiac Disease / microbiology
  • Celiac Disease / therapy
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome
  • Genetic Association Studies
  • Genetic Loci
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease*
  • Genetic Variation
  • Humans
  • Risk