Establishing a celiac disease (CD) diagnosis can be difficult, such as when CD-specific antibody levels are just above cutoff or when small intestinal biopsies show low-grade injuries. To investigate the biological pathways involved in CD and select potential biomarkers to aid in CD diagnosis, RNA sequencing of duodenal biopsies from subjects with either confirmed Active CD (n = 20) or without any signs of CD (n = 20) was performed. Gene enrichment and pathway analysis highlighted contexts, such as immune response, microbial infection, phagocytosis, intestinal barrier function, metabolism, and transportation. Twenty-nine potential CD biomarkers were selected based on differential expression and biological context. The biomarkers were validated by real-time polymerase chain reaction of eight RNA sequencing study subjects, and further investigated using an independent study group (n = 43) consisting of subjects not affected by CD, with a clear diagnosis of CD on either a gluten-containing or a gluten-free diet, or with low-grade intestinal injury. Selected biomarkers were able to classify subjects with clear CD/non-CD status, and a subset of the biomarkers (CXCL10, GBP5, IFI27, IFNG, and UBD) showed differential expression in biopsies from subjects with no or low-grade intestinal injury that received a CD diagnosis based on biopsies taken at a later time point. A large number of pathways are involved in CD pathogenesis, and gene expression is affected in CD mucosa already in low-grade intestinal injuries. RNA sequencing of low-grade intestinal injuries might discover pathways and biomarkers involved in early stages of CD pathogenesis.
Keywords: Gene expression profiling; Gene ontology enrichment analysis; Molecular biomarkers; RNA sequencing; RNA-seq.