The degree of inflammation and atrophy in gastric body mucosal specimens (n = 38) from 28 patients with dermatitis herpetiformis (DH) was graded histologically. Immunoglobulin (Ig) producing cells were enumerated by paired immunofluorescence staining in a 500 microns wide section area from the muscularis mucosae to the lumen (mucosal 'tissue unit'). The number of immunocytes of the three main classes (IgA, IgM, and IgG) was significantly raised with increasing degree of gastritis. All three classes were increased in specimens showing atrophy compared with those without atrophy. IgA cells predominated as in simple gastritis, but a striking difference was a marked increase of IgM cells in specimens with the most pronounced DH-associated gastritis. Relative class distribution of immunocytes within different mucosal zones showed that the percentage of IgA cells was significantly higher in the luminal than in the basal zone, whereas the contrary was true for IgG cells. IgM cells did not show any zonal preference. No relation was seen between small bowel and gastric lesions. The disproportionate increase of gastric IgM producing cells in DH might nevertheless reflect seeding of precursor cells of the secretory immune system generated in the proximal small intestine where the local IgM response is relatively pronounced.
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