Evaluating Responses to Gluten Challenge: A Randomized, Double-Blind, 2-Dose Gluten Challenge Trial

Gastroenterology. 2021 Feb;160(3):720-733.e8. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2020.10.040. Epub 2020 Oct 29.


Background & aims: Gluten challenge is used to diagnose celiac disease (CeD) and for clinical research. Sustained gluten exposure reliably induces histologic changes but is burdensome. We investigated the relative abilities of multiple biomarkers to assess disease activity induced by 2 gluten doses, and aimed to identify biomarkers to supplement or replace histology.

Methods: In this randomized, double-blind, 2-dose gluten-challenge trial conducted in 2 US centers (Boston, MA), 14 adults with biopsy-proven CeD were randomized to 3 g or 10 g gluten/d for 14 days. The study was powered to detect changes in villous height to crypt depth, and stopped at planned interim analysis on reaching this end point. Additional end points included gluten-specific cluster of differentiation (CD)4 T-cell analysis with HLA-DQ2-gluten tetramers and enzyme-linked immune absorbent spot, gut-homing CD8 T cells, interleukin-2, symptoms, video capsule endoscopy, intraepithelial leukocytes, and tissue multiplex immunofluorescence.

Results: All assessments showed changes with gluten challenge. However, time to maximal change, change magnitude, and gluten dose-response relationship varied. Villous height to crypt depth, video capsule endoscopy enteropathy score, enzyme-linked immune absorbent spot, gut-homing CD8 T cells, intraepithelial leukocyte counts, and HLA-DQ2-restricted gluten-specific CD4 T cells showed significant changes from baseline at 10 g gluten only; symptoms were significant at 3 g. Symptoms and plasma interleukin-2 levels increased significantly or near significantly at both doses. Interleukin-2 appeared to be the earliest, most sensitive marker of acute gluten exposure.

Conclusions: Modern biomarkers are sensitive and responsive to gluten exposure, potentially allowing less invasive, lower-dose, shorter-duration gluten ingestion. This work provides a preliminary framework for rational design of gluten challenge for CeD research. ClinicalTrials.gov number, NCT03409796.

Keywords: Biomarkers; Celiac Disease; Gluten Challenge; T Cells.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Celiac Disease / blood
  • Celiac Disease / diagnosis*
  • Celiac Disease / immunology
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay
  • Female
  • Glutens / administration & dosage*
  • Glutens / immunology
  • HLA-DQ Antigens / blood
  • HLA-DQ Antigens / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Tests / methods*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Young Adult


  • Biomarkers
  • HLA-DQ Antigens
  • HLA-DQ2 antigen
  • Glutens

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT03409796