Background: The continuing flow of scientific development in coeliac disease in the past decade points to the need for the formulation of a new concept of pathophysiology and clinical approach to the coeliac condition. Immunogenetic studies have shown a correlation of the disease to the HLA region on the short arm of chromosome 6; immunological research has led to the concept of a T-cell-driven immunologic response of the small intestine, with the identification of highly sensitive and specific antibodies; and our understanding of the histopathology of coeliac disease has changed dramatically, initiated by the proposition of a spectrum of gluten-sensitive enteropathy by Marsh in 1992. Clinical studies report a significant change in patient characteristics and epidemiology. The incidence of the disease has shifted to a majority of adult coeliacs, and it may present with less severe symptoms of malabsorption. Screening studies suggest an overall prevalence of up to 1 in 200-300.
Methods: Update on histopathology concentrating on the work of our research group.
Results: We specifically describe the work of our group in Arnhem concerning the identification and validation of the spectrum of intestinal histopathology in gluten-sensitive enteropathy, i.e. lymphocytic enteritis (Marsh I lesion), lymphocytic enteritis with crypt hyperplasia (Marsh II lesion), and villous atrophy, subdivided into partial villous atrophy (Marsh IIIA), subtotal villous atrophy (Marsh IIIB) and total villous atrophy (Marsh IIIC). Special attention is given to a subgroup of 'refractory coeliacs', including the identification of (pre-)malignant aberrant T cells in the intestinal mucosa of these patients.
Conclusion: New data on immunogenetics, epidemiology, histopathology and patient characteristics point to a significant change of view on coeliac disease.