Address: Department of Pediatrics, University Federico II, Naples, Italy.
Source: Pediatr Clin North Am, 43: 2, 1996 Apr, 355-73
Gluten-sensitive enteropathy is induced by dietary wheat gliadin and related proteins in genetically susceptible individuals. Most evidence suggests that the mucosal lesion represents an immunologically mediated injury triggered by gluten in the context of a particular assortment of major histocompatibility complex genes. The amino acid residues of gliadin and related proteins responsible for toxicity have not been identified; in vitro systems are available, but definitive conclusions must rely on in vivo jejunal challenges. At a conservative estimate, symptomatic gluten-sensitive enteropathy affects approximately 1 in 1000 individuals in Europe; however, it is now becoming clear that a greater proportion of individuals has clinically silent disease, and probably many others have a minor form of the the enteropathy. In most countries, the clinical presentation has changed over the past few years coming closer to the adult type of the disease, and the age of onset of symptoms is shifting upward. Liver, joint, hematologic, dental, and neurological symptoms are increasingly being recognized. Several diseases are associated the gluten-sensitive enteropathy, such as IgA deficiency, insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, and a range of other autoimmune diseases. Tests based on the measurement of antigliadin and antiendomysium antibodies have gained success as noninvasive screening tests; however, the ultimate diagnosis still is based on the finding of a severe histologic lesion of the jejunum while the patient is on a gluten-containing diet and on its disappearance once the gluten is excluded from the diet. A lifelong, strict gluten-free diet is mandatory for celiac children. Among other long-term problems, an increased risk of intestinal lymphoma has been reported in patients on a normal gluten-containing diet.