GlutN: understanding gluten sensitivity to offer suitable wheat-based products

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Réseau de gluten. Blé dur.. © INRA, GALLANT DanielRéseau de gluten. Blé dur.. © INRA, GALLANT Daniel

Coordinated by INRA, the GlutN Project aims to explore the mechanisms of non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), assess its prevalence and identify clinical markers with the goal of developing suitable bread products. The GlutN Project was launched on 30 January 2018 in Paris.

Found in the grains of numerous cereals, including wheat, gluten is a composite of proteins which gives flour the viscoelastic properties it needs to add shape to bread products. While important in the agri-food industry, gluten is the source of several human health disorders, including allergies and celiac disease, with well-documented causes and symptoms, as well as non-celiac gluten sensitivity. The latter condition is difficult to characterize and diagnose, and is increasingly self-diagnosed, leading to gluten-free diet practices which do not reflect objective clinical criteria. However, it is thought to be more prevalent in the population than celiac disease.

GlutN: understanding gluten intolerance to offer suitable wheat-based products

Coordinated by Catherine Ravel at the Genetics, Diversity and Ecophysiology of Cereals research unit (INRA - Université Clermont Auvergne (UCA), the GlutN Project - understanding gluten intolerance to offer suitable wheat-based products - aims to identify the mechanisms behind non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), assess its prevalence in the French population, and look for clinical biomarkers. Given that bread is the primary source of gluten consumed by the population, GlutN also aims to develop bread products that are tolerated by individuals with NCGS. The project’s launch meeting took place on Tuesday 30 January in Paris.

GlutN: from wheat to the consumer

From wheat plant to patient, basic to clinical research, GlutN, based on translational biology, looks at differences in wheat, the processes used to turn it into bread, examines the structure (and breakdown) of the protein-starch matrix during digestion, and includes a clinical trial component.

GlutN also includes an epidemiological study, based on the tracking of a NutriNet-Santé cohort of approximately 157,000 individuals, in order to establish profiles of people who have excluded gluten from their diet, and obtain an estimation of the prevalence of NCGS in France.

Concretely, 75 ancient and modern wheat lines will be studied, with a particular focus on their gluten composition, characteristics of their starch, and on the complex formed by gluten and starch - the digestibility of which could be a trigger of NCGS. Ten lines will be selected for use in different bread-making processes. The impact of each process on the structuring of the gluten and starch complex will be analysed. Lastly, the digestibility of five breads offering good hedonic value as well will be assessed on anin vitrobasis.

During the clinical trial, involving a cohort of NCGS patients, volunteers will be put on a gluten-free diet as part of a double-blind study. Reported symptoms, the condition of intestinal lining, and immunological studies will provide the first elements of understanding of the disease. Furthermore, a metabolomic study of blood, urine and stool samples will aim to identify disease biomarkers. Volunteers taking part in the trial will eat types of bread specifically selected for their digestibility, to determine tolerance levels.

The long-term goal of the GlutN Project is to achieve a better understanding of NCGS. Thanks to this project, scientists will obtain an estimate of how prevalent NCGS is in the population, provide diagnostic tools, and develop new bread products for NCGS consumers. The project encompasses a broad range of fields - genetics, agronomy, health and nutrition - and touches on social issues.