Interest in celiac disease, a common enteropathy in Europe and the USA (1/200) caused by the dietary ingestion of gluten in susceptible subjects, has increased over the last few years. Its pathogenesis is still not completely clear, but it certainly involves immune-mediated mechanisms. Although a number of studies have been published concerning the role of T cells in inducing intestinal damage, little is known about the early stages in which gliadin (the toxic component of gluten) starts the whole process. In vitro two- and three-dimensional (multicellular spheroid) cell cultures are a simple and useful means of studying the direct cellular effects of gliadin and other "toxic" cereal peptides. Furthermore, in addition to improving our understanding of pathogenetic mechanisms, cell cultures can also be used to test modified peptides that could replace the toxic components present in the foods that celiac patients must avoid.