In coeliac disease, gluten-containing diet challenges over many years are sometimes required for diagnosis, especially if the initial diagnosis was equivocal. The rectal gluten challenge has been proposed to simplify coeliac disease diagnosis. We were interested in studying whether the oral mucosa could be used for local challenge with gliadin as an aid in finalizing the diagnosis of coeliac disease. The study groups consisted of 37 treated coeliac disease patients and 10 controls. The challenges on the oral mucosa were performed either supramucosally with gliadin powder (coeliac disease patients) or by submucosal injection of dissolved gliadin (10 microg/ml) (coeliac disease patients and controls). A control challenge with submucosal gliadin solvent was made in the coeliac disease patients. B and T cells, mast cells and T cell subsets were counted and HLA-DR expression was determined. Biopsies were taken from each provoked area 24 h post-challenge. A significant increase in the number of CD4+ lymphocytes in the lamina propria (observed in 27/37 patients), but a decrease in the number of mast cells was observed in treated coeliac disease patients after submucosal challenge with gliadin. Following supramucosal challenge with gliadin the counts of intraepithelial CD4+ (in 25/37 patients) and CD8+ T cells (in 27/37 patients) increased significantly and the number of CD4+ T cells in the lamina propria was also significantly increased. Control subjects were tested by submucosal gliadin challenge and no significant changes in the number of cells were observed. HLA-DR expression did not show increased positivity in coeliac disease patients on submucosal challenge. For the first time the oral mucosa has been used for immunological testing and shown to react to gliadin challenge in coeliac disease patients. Recruitment of T cells upon submucosal gliadin challenge occurred towards the lamina propria, whereas it occurred towards the epithelium in supramucosal gliadin challenge. The numbers of T cells increased in the lamina propria after submucosal challenge. The results suggest that local oral challenge with gliadin may be used as a diagnostic method in coeliac disease; however, further studies in untreated coeliac disease patients are needed to evaluate the usefulness of this method.