Objective: Celiac sprue is associated with specific HLA-DQ genes (mainly DQ2). Because there are epidemiological and histopathological similarities between celiac sprue and microscopic colitis, we hypothesized that these syndrome may share an HLA genetic predisposition and pathogenesis.
Methods: The HLA-DQ genes of 25 patients with celiac sprue, 53 patients with the microscopic colitis syndrome, and 429 normal controls were typed and compared. Serum was analyzed for antigliadin and antiendomysial antibodies. Small intestinal biopsies were analyzed for signs of histopathology.
Results: HLA-DQ2 or DQ1,3 (the latter as DQ1,7,DQ1,8, or DQ1,9) were seen more frequently in both patient groups relative to controls. In patients with the microscopic colitis syndrome, serological tests for celiac sprue were weakly positive in 17%; mild inflammation of the small intestine without villous atrophy was present in 43%, and inflammation plus partial or subtotal villous atrophy was present in 27%.
Conclusions: A shared set of predisposing HLA-DQ genes account for the epidemiological overlap of celiac sprue and microscopic colitis. Mild to moderate mononuclear cell inflammation of the small intestine, often accompanied by partial or subtotal villous atrophy, is frequent in patients with the microscopic colitis syndrome. Although further studies will be necessary to determine if this enteropathy is induced by dietary gluten, we speculate that the small intestinal but not colonic histopathology in patients with microscopic colitis is caused by immunological gluten sensitivity.