The densities of T cells and of cells bearing the T cell receptors gamma/delta and alpha/delta and the surface antigens CD4 and CD8 in jejunal specimens from 21 patients with dermatitis herpetiformis were compared with those in specimens from 13 untreated adults with coeliac disease and 13 control subjects. In the lamina propria of the jejunum the median density of gamma/delta+ cells was significantly (p less than 0.001) greater in untreated patients with dermatitis herpetiformis than in control subjects (114 v 36 cells/mm2) and similar to that found in the patients with coeliac disease (115 cells/mm2). The difference in gamma/delta+ cell density between patients with dermatitis herpetiformis and control subjects was much greater in the surface epithelium of the jejunum: the median density for 14 untreated patients with dermatitis herpetiformis was 39 cells/mm, for seven patients with dermatitis herpetiformis on a gluten free diet 34 cells/mm, and for control subjects 2 cells/mm; the coeliac patients had the same density as the patients with dermatitis herpetiformis (45 cells/mm). The higher density of cells bearing the alpha/delta T cell receptor in the epithelium (median 77 cells/mm) of untreated patients with dermatitis herpetiformis was associated with a gluten containing diet; in specimens taken from patients with dermatitis herpetiformis on a gluten free diet the median density was similar to that in the control subjects (44 v 39 cells/mm). The increase in the number of lymphocytes bearing the T cell receptor gamma/delta, particularly in the epithelium of the jejunum, seems to be a constant marker for these closely related diseases, whereas the density of alpha/delta+ T cells is dependent on the diet.
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