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Ataxia, Gluten

Brain scan showing ataxia. Courtesy Wikimedia

Brain scan showing ataxia. Notice the space between the  brain and the skull that shows tissue loss.Courtesy Wikimedia

What Is Gluten Ataxia?

Gluten ataxia is a degeneration of the cerebellum (lower brain) caused by an immune reaction to gluten that is characterized by positive anti-gliadin antibodies, motor abnormalities including upper or lower limb ataxia, gait ataxia, and dysarthria (impaired muscles for producing speech). Ataxia involves lack of coordination in purposeful movements of the body like lifting objects and walking.1

In addition to anti-gliadin antibodies, patients with gluten ataxia have oligoclonal bands in their cerebrospinal fluid, inflammation at the cerebellum, and anti-Purkinje cell antibodies.2

The duration of immune reactivity to gluten that results in Purkinje cell damage in the cerebellum correlates with the severity and the presence of cerebellar atrophy (loss of brain tissue).3 That is, more gluten damages more brain cells.

Studies suggest that persons with gluten ataxia may have additional antibodies that react with Purkinje cells and are not present in patients with anything other than gluten ataxia alone. It seems likely that the Purkinje cells of the cerebellum share epitopes with gliadin proteins.4

Q: What is Purkinje cell damage?

A: Purkinje cell damage is a finding commonly encountered in cerebellar degeneration. Purkinje cells are large flask-shaped neurons lying between the molecular and granular layer of the cerebellar cortex (outer layer) that have dendrites (branched processes of the cell body that conduct messages to the cell body) extending to the cortex of the cerebellum and into the white matter of the brain.

Purkinje cells are sensitive to vitamin E status in the body.

What Is Gluten Ataxia In Celiac Disease and/or Gluten Sensitivity?


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  1. Jessica R. Jackson, William W. Eaton, Nicola G. Cascella, Alessio Fasano, and Deanna L. Kelly Neurologic and Psychiatric Manifestations of Celiac Disease and Gluten Sensitivity. Psychiatr Q. Mar 2012; 83(1): 91–102. doi:  10.1007/s11126-011-9186-y 

  2. Jessica R. Jackson, William W. Eaton, Nicola G. Cascella, Alessio Fasano, and Deanna L. Kelly Neurologic and Psychiatric Manifestations of Celiac Disease and Gluten Sensitivity. Psychiatr Q. Mar 2012; 83(1): 91–102. doi:  10.1007/s11126-011-9186-y 

  3. Hadjivassiliou M, Grunewald RA, Chattopadhyay AK, et al. Clinical, radiological, neurophysiological, and neuropathological characteristics of gluten ataxia. Lancet. Nov 14, 1998;352(9140):1582-5. 

  4. Jessica R. Jackson, William W. Eaton, Nicola G. Cascella, Alessio Fasano, and Deanna L. Kelly Neurologic and Psychiatric Manifestations of Celiac Disease and Gluten Sensitivity. Psychiatr Q. Mar 2012; 83(1): 91–102. doi:  10.1007/s11126-011-9186-y 

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