A double-lumen perfusion technique has been used to study amino acid and peptide absorption in eight normal control subjects, 13 patients with untreated adult coeliac disease, and 16 patients with dermatitis herpetiformis who had varying morphological abnormalities of the small bowel. All subjects were perfused with isotonic solutions containing 10 mM glycyl-L-alanine and 10 mM glycine + 10 mM L-alanine.
Patients with adult coeliac disease had impaired absorption of glycine (p < 0·01) and L-alanine (p < 0·05) from the amino acid solution compared with the control subjects. Amino acid uptake from the dipeptide solution was not significantly impaired, although four individual patients had impaired uptake of both amino acids. In contrast to these findings, very few patients with dermatitis herpetiformis had impaired amino acid absorption from either solution.
Sodium absorption was impaired from both solutions when the groups of patients with adult coeliac disease and dermatitis herpetiformis with subtotal villous atrophy and partial villous atrophy were studied, and there were patients in each group who secreted sodium and water.
The results suggest that malabsorption of dietary protein is unlikely to occur in dermatitis herpetiformis but may occur and contribute to protein deficiency seen in some severe cases of adult coeliac disease. The impairment of sodium and water absorption provides evidence that there may be functional impairment of the jejunal mucosa in dermatitis herpetiformis as well as in adult coeliac disease.
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