The colorectal biopsy specimens from 30 patients with chronic watery diarrhoea but normal endoscopic and radiographic findings were studied by light microscopy, morphometry, immunohistochemistry, and two patients with electron microscopy. The histological changes in the colorectum were originally diagnosed in six patients as lymphocytic colitis and in 24 patients as collagenous colitis. The analysis of the specimens for this study could delineate three distinct groups of microscopic colitis: lymphocytic colitis (six patients), collagenous colitis without lymphocytic attack on the surface epithelium (seven patients), and a mixed form presenting with both thickening of the collagen plate and increased number of intraepithelial lymphocytes (17 patients). No transformation was seen from one type to another during follow up of six patients for four to seven years. Increased numbers of active pericryptal myofibroblasts were found with the electron microscope in one patient with mixed microscopic colitis showing also myofibroblasts entrapped within the collagen layer. Hitherto undescribed flat mucosa of the ileum was found in one patient with lymphocytic colitis and both flat mucosa and thickening of the collagen plate in the ileum were seen in one patient with the mixed form of the disease. In another patient with mixed microscopic colitis, normalisation of the colorectal morphology occurred after temporary loop ileostomy, followed by the reappearance of both diarrhoea, inflammation, and thickening of the collagen plate after the ileostomy was reversed. No association was found between non-steroid anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) consumption and collagenous or mixed microscopic colitis. The primary cause of microscopic colitis is probably an immunological reaction to luminal antigen/s, perhaps of ileal origin. The engagement of the pericryptal myofibroblasts in the disease process might result in the development of the various forms of microscopic colitis. An inverse relation between intraepithelial lymphocyte count and collagen thickness may indicate that microscopic colitis is a spectral disease.
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