Intestinal permeability has been studied in 21 patients with coeliac disease in relapse and after gluten withdrawal using an oral test of intestinal permeability based on the simultaneous oral administration of two probe molecules. The increased absorption of the larger molecule (cellobiose) and the decreased absorption of the smaller (mannitol) found in untreated coeliac disease both returned to normal within five months of starting treatment, the abnormality in cellobiose absorption correcting more rapidly than that of mannitol. After exposure to a single oral dose of gluten, the intestinal permeability of six patients with treated coeliac disease became transiently abnormal with an increased absorption of cellobiose, returning to normal within one week. The possible structural and functional implications of these findings are discussed. The cellobiose/mannitol ratio appears to be of value in assessing the response to gluten withdrawal in coeliac disease, and also in monitoring patients who are already established on a gluten free diet by detecting dietary lapses and 'non-responding coeliac disease'. It may also offer an alternative to jejunal biopsy in patients subjected to gluten challenge.
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