Cytolytic mechanisms of intraepithelial lymphocytes in coeliac disease (CoD)

Clin Exp Immunol. 2000 May;120(2):235-40. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2249.2000.01200.x.


The effector arm of the mucosal immune system comprises lymphocytes scattered at intraepithelial and lamina propria levels. Intraepithelial lymphocytes (IEL) are a large population of oligoclonal resting cells which exhibit phenotypic and functional characteristics of cytolytic T cells when activated. Several mechanisms have been demonstrated to account for their cytotoxicity. Among them, one is mediated by perforin and granzyme molecules, another is mediated by Fas ligand (FasL) which delivers apoptotic signals through Fas receptor on target cells. There is good evidence that a flat intestinal mucosa may be produced by activated T cells. The aim of our study was to evaluate FasL and perforin expression by IEL, and its possible correlation with the increased enterocyte apoptosis in coeliac mucosa. Endoscopic duodenal biopsy specimens from 10 untreated coeliac patients, 10 treated coeliac patients, and 10 biopsied controls were evaluated for enterocyte apoptosis by terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase-mediated digoxigenin-deoxyuridine triphosphate nick end label method, for perforin expression by immunohistochemistry, and for FasL expression by immunocytochemistry. In untreated CoD there was a significant increase of percentage of both FasL+ and perforin+ IEL which positively correlated with enterocyte apoptosis in comparison with controls. All these parameters were significantly lower in treated CoD, even though they did not normalize. Our study demonstrates that in untreated CoD FasL and perforin expression by IEL is increased, and significantly correlates with the level of enterocyte apoptosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • CD3 Complex / biosynthesis
  • Celiac Disease / immunology*
  • Celiac Disease / pathology
  • Cytotoxicity, Immunologic / immunology
  • Fas Ligand Protein
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunoenzyme Techniques
  • Intestinal Mucosa / cytology
  • Intestinal Mucosa / immunology*
  • Male
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / biosynthesis*
  • Middle Aged
  • Perforin
  • Pore Forming Cytotoxic Proteins
  • T-Lymphocytes, Cytotoxic / immunology*


  • CD3 Complex
  • FASLG protein, human
  • Fas Ligand Protein
  • Membrane Glycoproteins
  • Pore Forming Cytotoxic Proteins
  • Perforin