Aims/hypothesis: Recent observations have shown subclinical intestinal abnormalities in human type 1 diabetes. Whether these are related to the pathogenetic process or secondary to the diabetes remains to be clarified. The aim of this study was to investigate this issue by examining intestinal permeability to sugars in subjects at different stages of type 1 diabetes: preclinical, new-onset and long-term established disease.
Methods: Eighty-one subjects with islet autoimmunity (18 preclinical, 28 new-onset and 35 long-term type 1 diabetes) and 40 healthy control subjects were investigated by a lactulose-mannitol test, consisting of oral administration of the two sugars and measurement of their urinary excretion.
Results: All groups of subjects with islet autoimmunity showed an increase in intestinal permeability (p < or = 0.009 vs controls) to the disaccharide lactulose, indicative of a damaged barrier, but a similar permeability to the monosaccharide mannitol (NS vs controls), indicative of an integral surface mucosa; consequently there was an increase in the lactulose:mannitol excretion ratio (p < or = 0.025 vs controls).
Conclusions/interpretation: These findings indicate the presence of a subclinical enteropathy associated with type 1 diabetes that is already detectable before clinical onset of the disease, and suggest that the small intestine is an organ participating in the pathogenetic process of type 1 diabetes.