Cytotoxic T cells are preferentially activated in the duodenal epithelium from patients with florid coeliac disease

J Pathol. 2005 Jun;206(2):178-85. doi: 10.1002/path.1773.


Villous atrophy and increased numbers of intraepithelial T cells in duodenal biopsies represent a hallmark of coeliac disease. In the present study, an attempt has been made to define whether cytotoxic cell subsets are activated in situ in the affected mucosa of susceptible individuals early after ingestion of a gluten-containing diet. Duodenal biopsies from 11 patients with coeliac disease who repeatedly underwent endoscopic biopsy after ingestion of individually dosed amounts of gluten were used for immunohistochemistry and in situ hybridization. To identify the cell subsets expressing perforin mRNA and protein, in situ hybridization and FACS analyses were performed on cells isolated from fresh biopsies. Compared with normal mucosa, the number of intraepithelial lymphocytes containing perforin mRNA and protein increased significantly in tissue samples showing moderate or florid coeliac disease and closely paralleled the severity of morphological alteration, whereas the frequency of perforin-expressing lamina propria lymphocytes increased only moderately. Cells isolated from florid biopsies that expressed perforin mRNA and protein were preferentially T-cell receptor (TCR) alphabeta T cells. The increase in both the absolute number and the percentage of lymphocytes expressing perforin mRNA indicates in situ activation of lymphocytes within the epithelial compartment in florid coeliac disease upon ingestion of a gluten-containing diet in patients predisposed to coeliac disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biopsy
  • CD3 Complex / analysis
  • Celiac Disease / immunology*
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Duodenum / immunology*
  • Female
  • Gene Expression
  • Glutens / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Mucosal
  • Intestinal Mucosa / immunology*
  • Lymphocyte Activation / immunology*
  • Male
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / biosynthesis
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / genetics
  • Perforin
  • Pore Forming Cytotoxic Proteins
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell, alpha-beta / analysis
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell, gamma-delta / analysis
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets / immunology
  • T-Lymphocytes, Cytotoxic / immunology*


  • CD3 Complex
  • Membrane Glycoproteins
  • Pore Forming Cytotoxic Proteins
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell, alpha-beta
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell, gamma-delta
  • Perforin
  • Glutens