Gluten-related disorders (GRDs) are a group of diseases that involve the activation of the immune system triggered by the ingestion of gluten, with a worldwide prevalence of 5%. Among them, Celiac disease (CeD) is a T-cell-mediated autoimmune disease causing a plethora of symptoms from diarrhea and malabsorption to lymphoma. Even though GRDs have been intensively studied, the environmental triggers promoting the diverse reactions to gluten proteins in susceptible individuals remain elusive. It has been proposed that pathogens could act as disease-causing environmental triggers of CeD by molecular mimicry mechanisms. Additionally, it could also be possible that unrecognized molecular, structural, and physical parallels between gluten and pathogens have a relevant role. Herein, we report sequence, structural and physical similarities of the two most relevant gluten peptides, the 33-mer and p31-43 gliadin peptides, with bacterial pathogens using bioinformatics going beyond the molecular mimicry hypothesis. First, a stringent BLASTp search using the two gliadin peptides identified high sequence similarity regions within pathogen-derived proteins, e.g., extracellular proteins from Streptococcus pneumoniae
sp. Second, molecular dynamics calculations of an updated α-2-gliadin model revealed close spatial localization and solvent-exposure of the 33-mer and p31-43 peptide, which was compared with the pathogen-related proteins by homology models and localization predictors. We found putative functions of the identified pathogen-derived sequence by identifying T-cell epitopes and SH3/WW-binding domains. Finally, shape and size parallels between the pathogens and the superstructures of gliadin peptides gave rise to novel hypotheses about activation of innate immunity and dysbiosis. Based on our structural findings and the similarities with the bacterial pathogens, evidence emerges that these pathologically relevant gluten-derived peptides could behave as non-replicating pathogens opening new research questions in the interface of innate immunity, microbiome, and food research.
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