Expression of major histocompatibility (MHC) class II molecules by enterocytes is known to be enhanced in coeliac disease and other disorders characterised by intestinal inflammation--an effect thought to be mediated via intestinal lymphocytes. To investigate if food peptides can exert direct effects on class II expression, the influence of gliadins, casein, and beta lactoglobulin on an intestinal epithelial cell line (HT-29) was examined in the absence of immune cells. Class II expression was determined by flow cytometry and immunofluorescence microscopy using antibodies against the beta chain of all products of the gene subregions DR, DQ, and DP. MHC expression was low in HT-29 cells but could be stimulated by interferon gamma. Tryptin digested gliadin had no effect on class II expression. In the presence of interferon gamma, however, it was able to amplify MHC class II expression to mean (SEM) 150 (4)%. Casein exerted a similar effect (160 (14)%), but undigested gliadin, tryptin digested casein, and beta lactoglobulin had no influence. The observations suggest that within the concert of cytokine mediated interactions between enterocytes and lymphocytes, some dietary peptides could upregulate the presentation of food antigens, leading to a more efficient stimulation of lymphocytes, which in the case of coeliac disease might result in damage to the enterocytes.
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