Objective: The aim of this study was to investigate the value of immunohistochemical characterization of different intraepithelial lymphocytes (IELs) in the diagnostic workup of celiac disease (CD).
Methods: The study involved 928 consecutive adult patients undergoing endoscopy undertaken on suspicion of CD or to ascertain the dietary compliance; the control group consisted of 59 adults who underwent endoscopy because of indigestion. Small bowel mucosal morphology, CD3+, alphabeta+, and gammadelta+ IELs were determined.
Results: CD was detected in 138 and excluded in 545 adults. CD3+ and gammadelta+ IELs both showed a sensitivity of 93% for CD; specificity was 73% and 88%, respectively. For alphabeta+ cells, the sensitivity was 83% and specificity, 66%. The mucosal morphology recovered on a gluten-free diet and the densities of different IELs, even gammadelta+ cells, decreased. Only the density of gammadelta+ cells remained elevated compared with controls.
Conclusions: Counting of IELs is recommended in borderline cases where the histology is difficult to interpret. An increase especially in gammadelta+ cells strengthens the probability of CD. However, IELs are not invariably increased in CD.