Background: An investigation was conducted to determine whether the density of small-intestinal villous tip intraepithelial lymphocytes would be of value in clinical practice in uncovering early-stage coeliac disease.
Methods: Villous tip, CD3+ and gammadelta+ intraepithelial lymphocytes were counted in patients with definite early-stage coeliac disease without villous atrophy, in classic coeliac disease with manifest mucosal lesion and in non-coeliac controls with normal mucosal structure. Villous tip analysis was made of haematoxylin-eosin specimens and CD3+ and gammadelta+ of immunohistochemical stainings from frozen samples.
Results: The villous tip intraepithelial lymphocyte count was statistically significantly higher in patients with early-stage coeliac disease than in non-coeliac controls. The sensitivity of this method to detect untreated coeliac disease with normal villous architecture was 0.84; the specificity was 0.88. This method proved superior to CD3+ analysis and was at least as good as gammadelta+ analysis in detecting early-stage coeliac disease. In detecting classic coeliac disease, villous tip analysis also reached a higher sensitivity than CD3+ and gammadelta+ cells.
Conclusions: Villous tip analysis seems to distinguish early coeliac from non-specific changes, thus providing a valuable tool in routine practice, especially when borderline findings are involved. Its value appears to be similar to counting of gammadelta+ cells, which, however, requires frozen biopsy samples.