BACKGROUND: Concentrations of pro-inflammatory cytokines are raised in the small intestine of patients with coeliac disease after ingestion of gluten but there are equivalent data on interleukin-4 (IL-4) and interleukin-10 (IL-10) producing cells. These cytokines are known to exert important regulatory effects on pro-inflammatory cytokine production from lymphocytes and macrophages. AIMS: To investigate whether there is a primary deficiency of IL-4 and IL-10 producing cells and their site of production in the small intestine of patients with coeliac disease in relation to the changes in inflammatory cell infiltrate. PATIENTS: Jejunal biopsy specimens from patients with coeliac disease (11 untreated, 10 treated) and nine disease controls were studied. METHODS: Immunohistochemical staining of sections for IL-4 and IL-10 cytokines and the cell phenotypic markers CD3 (T lymphocytes) and CD45 (total inflammatory cell infiltrate) was carried out using monoclonal antibodies. Expression of IL-4 and IL-10 messenger RNA was detected by in situ hybridisation with oligonucleotide probe cocktails for each cytokine. RESULTS: IL-4 and IL-10 mRNA and protein were detected in the lamina propria of treated and untreated coeliac patients and disease controls but not in the epithelium. A significant increase in the number of CD45 (p < 0.005) and CD3 (p < 0.05) positive cells was found in the lamina propria of patients with untreated coeliac disease compared with treated coeliac patients and disease controls but there were no differences in IL-4 or IL-10 between these groups with either method. CONCLUSIONS: There is no primary deficiency of IL-4 and IL-10 producing cells in the small intestine of patients with coeliac disease. Detectable concentrations of IL-4 and IL-10 were found in control patients which suggests that these cytokines are involved in normal mucosal immunoregulation. The increased number of T lymphocytes but not IL-4 or IL-10 producing cells in the lamina propria of patients with untreated than in those with treated disease suggests not only that the lamina propria is the major mucosal compartment for cytokine production but that newly recruited mucosal T lymphocytes are directed to a predominant Th1 and not a Th2 cytokine response in coeliac patients on a diet containing gluten.
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