Intestinal permeability was investigated in patients with coeliac disease and dermatitis herpetiformis by a 51Chromium-labelled ethylenediaminetetraacetate (51Cr-EDTA) absorption test and the results correlated with histomorphometric analysis and intraepithelial lymphocyte counts of jejunal biopsies. The mean (+/- SD) 24 hour urine excretion of 51Cr-EDTA in 34 healthy volunteers was 1.9 +/- 0.5% of the orally administered test dose. Patients with untreated coeliac disease (19) or untreated dermatitis herpetiformis (five) excreted significantly more 51Cr-EDTA than controls (5.9 +/- 2.7% and 4.6 +/- 2.1%, respectively, p less than 0.001) and all were outside the normal range of 1.0-2.6%. Patients with coeliac disease (42) treated for 6 months-23 years (mean 5 years) and patients with dermatitis herpetiformis (11) treated for 6 months-8 years (mean 3 years) excreted significantly more 51Cr-EDTA than controls, 4.2 +/- 2.4% p less than 0.0001 and 3.0 +/- 0.9% p less than 0.003 respectively. Eleven of 14 (79%) treated patients with coeliac disease with an entirely normal jejunal mucosae demonstrated abnormal intestinal permeability. Intestinal permeability did not correlate significantly with either the mucosal height/crypt depth ratio or intraepithelial lymphocyte counts in jejunal biopsies from patients with untreated or treated coeliac disease. The demonstration of a persistent increase in intestinal permeability in patients with both coeliac disease and dermatitis herpetiformis may suggest a common pathogenetic mechanism in both disorders. It is postulated that altered permeability may facilitate the entry of gluten or a fraction thereof into the lamina propria where it causes a cascade of immunological events.
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