Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Gliadin Protein in 3D - the enemy revealed

Isn't it deceptively beautiful?

That's a snapshot of the Gliadin molecule (well, actually it's the Crystal structure of HLA-DQ2 complexed with deamidated gliadin peptide - but, close enough for this example). I rendered it using the free Protein Workshop software available at the RCSB Protein Data Bank (which is a really cool tool and database if you are into protein analysis and research - you can't quite get the full effect here with just a 2D snapshot of a full 3-axis / 3D rotation interface).

Gliadin is a glycoprotein present in wheat and other gluten-containing grains. It's one of the primary proteins that people with Celiac disease are sensitive to (particularly that a, ß, and y gliadins). And, as you can see, it's a rather complex molecular structure, and typical of such proteins. This molecule is to be avoided at all cost if you are living with a gluten-free diet and Celiac Disease - it is an enemy.

I was curious to see how the proteins in gluten compared in structure to those in whey (like, β-lactoglobulin - the major whey protein of cow's milk), in an attempt to better understand how the whey protein seems to be able to emulate some "gluten-like" binding abilities in recipes I have been playing with. In a 3D model, there are certainly some similarities between these various proteins - in both their complexity and shapes.

The Gliadin in wheat and other grains is what gives bread some of it's elasticity, allowing it to rise while maintaining that wonderful texture. So, experimenting with alternative means of emulating "gluten" (and not just by using vegetable gums) is certainly something I find continually intriguing. And, now one more tool to be employed in my gluten-free diet research is the Protein Workshop and data-bank. Will it help? Who knows, but it sure is fun to play with!


Catholicmommy said...

please please share your findings :-) I don't have the biochem background to fully understand this, but there HAS to be a better way to cook gf. you can do it :-)

Mike Eberhart said...

I don't have a biochemistry background either really, I just enjoy science as a hobby - nearly all science, and I have enough of a fascination with all this stuff to "dive deep" when needed.

The main thing I was trying to get at in this posting was that there are alternate protein sources (to gluten) that may be able to contribute some of, perhaps even nearly all, that wonderful "binding power" gluten has. So far, the whey-protein isolate, which I've discussed on this blog earlier, and featured in a couple recipes the past few months, seems to hold quite a bit of potential. It's a bit of a departure from the traditional "gums" approach to binding recipes together.

So, trust me, I agree there are better ways to cook gluten-free diet foods, and I'm always in pursuit of the perfect GF replacements for "normal" foods. I'll share as much as possible here on the Gluten-Free Blog for Celiac and/or wheat-free people. I hope others find it all useful.

Dianne said...


This is a fascinating post! I'm moving in this general direction myself, since reading up on whey protien isolate! I'll have to put my 'science head' on and read up on the molecular structure of protiens

I'm on enforced rest at the moment, following a bad fall a week ago, so it shouldnt be too dificult to find the time!

D :)

Dr. Wangen said...


It is interesting to see that some people, like me, have immune system response to both gliadin and dairy products. Some of my patients find that they have dairy allergies (confirmed by ELISA-method testing) in addition to IgA mediated celiac disease.

Mike Eberhart said...

Wow - sure hope you recover from the fall quickly! If you happen to get some baking in while on rest, great.

Dr Wangen,
Thanks for stopping by an posting a response. When you mention that others have the same dietary issues you do, I'm sure some do... but, not I. I don't have any problems with dairy thankfully, which is why I'm discussing whey-protein as an alternative "gluten" perhaps.

Kristi said...

Well, how neat is that? I always wondered what the thing looked like that was trying to kill me. ;)

StacyB said...

I've only recently read that it was the casein protein, not the whey which was similar to gluten, which is part of the reasoning behind the gluten free casein free diet for people with autism. I don't recall the place I read this mentioning any sources though, so it could be that they were actually off base here. I think it was in wikipedia (and you know how trustworthy that is ;) )

My older son (age 3) has tested autistic, and is sensitive to the dairy for sure, but we have him off gluten as well for a trial period. He shows no actual classical signs of food allergies though. My younger son (age 18 months) is allergic to dairy, peanuts, and eggs, may be allergic to soy.

Baking with so many missing food groups (especially the eggs!) had really proved challenging.

Anonymous said...

Mike - in your research...think about B-vitamin(s). I'm not a science person but I think I'm onto something. I can provide more information if interested. My son has issues with foods. And I think I may have something that can help catapult you into the right direction.

Mike Eberhart said...

Thanks for the comment. I don't know exactly what you think B-vitamins will do in regard to gliadin proteins in particular, but, trust me, I've been doing mega-B-Vitamins for a while. So, good call in general you've made. They make me feel much better in general, and I presume part of that is due to the need to overcome malabsorption caused by damages from intestinal exposure to the gliadin molecule. Essentially, I think my GI tract is less able to absorb B-vitamins, so I take more of them.

Also, if you poke around this blog, I wrote about how to take B-vitamins (espec. B12) sublingually for maximum absorption. So, yes, B-vitamins may be worth investigation if you have Celiac. There are a few B's you need to watch dosing on though, so definitely do your homework first :)