Background: Autoimmune enteropathy is normally characterised by crypt hyperplastic villous atrophy with enterocyte autoantibodies, activation of mucosal lymphocytes and increased epithelial HLA-DR. This case involved a severely affected Portuguese infant who was found to have lymphocyte activation deficiency and demonstrated correspondingly distinct mucosal features.
Methods: A female infant of nonconsanguineous parents was treated for vomiting and diarrhoea, first with milk exclusion and then with parenteral nutrition. Lymphocyte subsets and immunoglobulin concentrations were normal, but in vitro testing showed no activation in response to phytohaemagglutinin, Candida, or purified protein derivative, although the response to interleukin (IL)-2 was intact. Interleukin-2 deficiency was excluded. Analysis of jejunal biopsy specimens revealed only mild villous blunting with absent goblet cells, normal epithelial proliferation, and no crypt hyperplasia. The dense infiltrate of CD8+ and CD4+ T lymphocytes showed normal CD2 and CD3 expression but no activation or proliferation markers. HLA-DR was not increased on epithelium or lymphocytes. Thus, in addition to in vitro evidence for lymphocyte activation deficiency, the mucosal specimens showed no evidence of in situ T-cell activation.
Results: After development of overwhelming septicaemia, the patient died at 18 months, just before a planned bone marrow transplant.
Conclusions: These findings confirm significant heterogeneity within autoimmune enteropathy. Formal immune function testing should be performed in all affected infants to identify T-cell activation deficiencies. The distinct mucosal findings suggest that activated T cells usually induce the crypt hyperplastic villous atrophy characteristic of classic autoimmune enteropathy.