Intestinal epithelium, intraepithelial lymphocytes and the gut microbiota - Key players in the pathogenesis of celiac disease

World J Gastroenterol. 2017 Nov 14;23(42):7505-7518. doi: 10.3748/wjg.v23.i42.7505.


Celiac disease (CD) is a chronic immune-mediated disorder triggered by the ingestion of gluten in genetically predisposed individuals. Before activating the immune system, gluten peptides are transferred by the epithelial barrier to the mucosal lamina propria, where they are deamidated by intestinal tissue transglutaminase 2. As a result, they strongly bind to human leucocyte antigens (HLAs), especially HLA-DQ2 and HLA-DQ8, expressed on antigen-presenting cells. This induces an inflammatory response, which results in small bowel enteropathy. Although gluten is the main external trigger activating both innate and adaptive (specific) immunity, its presence in the intestinal lumen does not fully explain CD pathogenesis. It has been hypothesized that an early disruption of the gut barrier in genetically susceptible individuals, which would result in an increased intestinal permeability, could precede the onset of gluten-induced immune events. The intestinal barrier is a complex functional structure, whose functioning is dependent on intestinal microbiota homeostasis, epithelial layer integrity, and the gut-associated lymphoid tissue with its intraepithelial lymphocytes (IELs). The aim of this paper was to review the current literature and summarize the role of the gut microbiota, epithelial cells and their intercellular junctions, and IELs in CD development.

Keywords: Celiac disease; Epithelium; Intestinal barrier; Intestinal microbiota; Intraepithelial lymphocytes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Celiac Disease / etiology*
  • Epithelial Cells / physiology
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome*
  • Humans
  • Intercellular Junctions / physiology*
  • Intercellular Junctions / ultrastructure
  • Intestinal Mucosa / immunology*
  • Intestinal Mucosa / ultrastructure
  • Lymphocytes / physiology
  • Protein Glutamine gamma Glutamyltransferase 2