Wheat gluten intake increases the severity of experimental colitis and bacterial translocation by weakening of the proteins of the junctional complex

Br J Nutr. 2019 Feb;121(4):361-373. doi: 10.1017/S0007114518003422.


Gluten is only partially digested by intestinal enzymes and can generate peptides that can alter intestinal permeability, facilitating bacterial translocation, thus affecting the immune system. Few studies addressed the role of diet with gluten in the development of colitis. Therefore, we investigate the effects of wheat gluten-containing diet on the evolution of sodium dextran sulphate (DSS)-induced colitis. Mice were fed a standard diet without (colitis group) or with 4·5 % wheat gluten (colitis + gluten) for 15 d and received DSS solution (1·5 %, w/v) instead of water during the last 7 d. Compared with the colitis group, colitis + gluten mice presented a worse clinical score, a larger extension of colonic injury area, and increased mucosal inflammation. Both intestinal permeability and bacterial translocation were increased, propitiating bacteria migration for peripheral organs. The mechanism by which diet with gluten exacerbates colitis appears to be related to changes in protein production and organisation in adhesion junctions and desmosomes. The protein α-E-catenin was especially reduced in mice fed gluten, which compromised the localisation of E-cadherin and β-catenin proteins, weakening the structure of desmosomes. The epithelial damage caused by gluten included shortening of microvilli, a high number of digestive vacuoles, and changes in the endosome/lysosome system. In conclusion, our results show that wheat gluten-containing diet exacerbates the mucosal damage caused by colitis, reducing intestinal barrier function and increasing bacterial translocation. These effects are related to the induction of weakness and disorganisation of adhesion junctions and desmosomes as well as shortening of microvilli and modification of the endocytic vesicle route.

Keywords: 99mTc 99mtechnetium; ATI amylase–trypsin inhibitor; C control; Col + G colitis + gluten; Col colitis; DSS sodium dextran sulphate; IBD inflammatory bowel disease; TEM transmission electron microscopy; UC ulcerative colitis; Bacterial translocation; Experimental colitis; Gluten; Intestinal permeability.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacterial Translocation / immunology*
  • Colitis / chemically induced
  • Colitis / immunology*
  • Colitis / microbiology
  • Colon
  • Dextran Sulfate
  • Diet / adverse effects*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / immunology
  • Glutens / adverse effects*
  • Intestinal Mucosa / immunology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Permeability
  • Tight Junctions / immunology*
  • Triticum / chemistry


  • Glutens
  • Dextran Sulfate