Dermatitis herpetiformis: a cutaneous manifestation of coeliac disease

Ann Med. 2017 Feb;49(1):23-31. doi: 10.1080/07853890.2016.1222450. Epub 2016 Dec 14.


Dermatitis herpetiformis (DH) is an itchy blistering skin disease with predilection sites on elbows, knees, and buttocks. Diagnosis is confirmed by showing granular immunoglobulin A deposits in perilesional skin. DH is one manifestation of coeliac disease; the skin symptoms heal with gluten free diet (GFD) and relapse on gluten challenge. Of the first-degree relatives, 5% may be affected by either condition. Tissue transglutaminase (TG2) is the autoantigen in coeliac disease and epidermal transglutaminase (TG3) in DH. Both diseases conditions exhibit TG2-specific autoantibodies in serum and small bowel mucosa; patients with DH have IgA-TG3 in the skin. There are some divergencies between these two phenotypes. One-fourth of DH patients do not have small bowel mucosal villous atrophy, but virtually all have coeliac-type inflammatory changes. The skin symptoms respond slowly to GFD. The incidence of coeliac disease is increasing, whereas the opposite is true for DH. A female predominance is evident in coeliac disease, while DH may be more common in males. Coeliac disease carries the risk of small intestinal T-cell lymphoma; in DH B-cell lymphomas at any site may prevail. Adult coeliac disease carries a slightly increased elevated mortality risk, whereas in DH, the relative mortality rate is significantly decreased. Key messages Dermatitis herpetiformis is a cutaneous manifestation of coeliac disease; both conditions are genetically determined and gluten-dependent. Gastrointestinal symptoms and the degree of villous atrophy are less obvious in dermatitis herpetiformis than in coeliac disease. Both show tissue transglutaminase (TG2) specific autoantibodies in serum and small bowel mucosa. In addition, TG3-targeted IgA antibodies are found in the skin of DH patients Both conditions carry an increased elevated risk of lymphoma, in coeliac disease small intestinal T-cell lymphoma, in dermatitis herpetiformis mainly B-cell lymphoma at various sites. Coeliac disease is currently eight times more common that DH; the incidence of DH is decreasing in contrast to that of coeliac disease, where it is increasing.

Keywords: Bullous dermatoses; coeliac disease; dermatitis herpetiformis; gluten intolerance; tissue transglutaminase.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Autoantibodies / blood
  • Autoantigens / immunology
  • Celiac Disease / diagnosis*
  • Celiac Disease / epidemiology
  • Celiac Disease / immunology
  • Dermatitis Herpetiformis / diagnosis*
  • Dermatitis Herpetiformis / diet therapy
  • Dermatitis Herpetiformis / immunology*
  • Dermatitis Herpetiformis / pathology
  • Diet, Gluten-Free
  • Enteropathy-Associated T-Cell Lymphoma / complications
  • Female
  • GTP-Binding Proteins / blood
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin A / isolation & purification
  • Immunoglobulin A / metabolism
  • Incidence
  • Intestinal Mucosa / immunology
  • Intestinal Mucosa / pathology
  • Intestine, Small / immunology
  • Intestine, Small / pathology
  • Lymphoma, B-Cell / complications
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Protein Glutamine gamma Glutamyltransferase 2
  • Risk
  • Skin / immunology
  • Skin / pathology*
  • Transglutaminases / blood


  • Autoantibodies
  • Autoantigens
  • Immunoglobulin A
  • Protein Glutamine gamma Glutamyltransferase 2
  • Transglutaminases
  • GTP-Binding Proteins