The expression of HLA-DR by surface and crypt epithelium and the numbers of cells of natural killer (NK) phenotype and of IgE containing cells were studied with monoclonal antisera using the peroxidase technique. We examined 48 jejunal biopsy specimens taken from 35 coeliac children before treatment (11), during gluten free diet (20) and after gluten challenge (17), and 13 control specimens. The luminal surface of the epithelial cells stained with HLA-DR antiserum in all specimens, but the cytoplasm of the surface epithelial cells took up the stain more frequently in the specimens from the controls (5/13) than those from the coeliacs (2/48) (p less than 0.01). In 21/28 specimens taken from coeliacs when on a gluten containing diet the crypt epithelium showed strong HLA-DR expression, while only 4/20 (p less than 0.01) specimens of coeliacs on a gluten free diet and 1/13 specimens of controls had similar staining. Among the intraepithelial lymphocytes no cells of NK phenotype were found in specimens from patients or controls. As compared with control specimens biopsy specimens from untreated coeliac patients showed smaller numbers of NK cells in the lamina propria. No difference was found in the numbers of IgE containing cells between the patients and controls. The strong expression of HLA-DR by the crypt epithelial cells in coeliac children on a normal diet suggest that these cells are involved in the presentation of the antigen.
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