The numbers of immunoglobulin-containing cells in jejunal biopsy specimens of 19 children with active coeliac disease aged 0·5 to 16·5 years were studied by direct immunofluorescence. Intestinal juice immunoglobulins were measured in 14 of these patients.
The number of IgA-containing cells was twice and the number of IgM-containing cells 2·5 times that of age-matched controls. There were also more IgG-, IgE-, and IgD-containing cells in the jejunal mucosa of the coeliac patients, but the absolute numbers of these cells were low. The immunoglobulin content of the intestinal juice was not altered in coeliacs.
A follow-up biopsy specimen was available from seven patients kept on a strict gluten-free diet for one to four months. A significant fall in the numbers of immunoglobulin-containing cells was seen, and they did not differ at that time from the controls. Two patients were followed until full normalization of the jejunal structure and they had normal numbers of immunoglobulin-containing cells.
In children with coeliac disease in contrast to adult coeliacs, the study shows that the IgA-producing system is quantitatively stimulated during gluten challenge. The rapid drop in the numbers of immunoglobulin-containing cells after gluten withdrawal suggests that there is no quantitative abnormality in the local immunoglobulin-producing system of the gut in coeliac disease.
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