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Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder occurring in genetically susceptible individuals, triggered by gluten and related prolamins. Well identified haplotypes in the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) class II region (either DQ2 [DQA*0501-DQB*0201] or DQ8 [DQA*0301 -DQB1*0302]) confer a large part of the genetic susceptibility to celiac disease.
Celiac disease originates as a result of a combined action involving both adaptive and innate immunity. The adaptive immune response to gluten has been well described, with the identification of specific peptide sequences demonstrating HLA-DQ2 or -DQ8 restrictive binding motifs across various gluten proteins. As for innate immunity, through specific natural killer receptors expressed on their surface, intra-epithelial lymphocytes recognize nonclassical major histocompatibility complex (MHC)-I molecules such as MICA, which are induced on the surface of enterocytes by stress and inflammation, and this interaction leads to their activation to become lymphokine-activated killing cells.
Four possible presentations of celiac disease are recognized: (i) typical, characterized mostly by gastrointestinal signs and symptoms; (ii) atypical or extraintestinal, where gastrointestinal signs/symptoms are minimal or absent and a number of other manifestations are present; (iii) silent, where the small intestinal mucosa is damaged and celiac disease autoimmunity can be detected by serology, but there are no symptoms; and, finally, (iv) latent, where individuals possess genetic compatibility with celiac disease and may also show positive autoimmune serology, that have a normal mucosa morphology and may or may not be symptomatic.
The diagnosis of celiac disease still rests on the demonstration of changes in the histology of the small intestinal mucosa. The classic celiac lesion occurs in the proximal small intestine with histologic changes of villous atrophy, crypt hyperplasia, and increased intraepithelial lymphocytosis. Currently, serological screening tests are utilized primarily to identify those individuals in need of a diagnostic endoscopic biopsy. The serum levels of immunoglobulin (Ig)A anti-tissue transglutaminase (or TG2) are the first choice in screening for celiac disease, displaying the highest levels of sensitivity (up to 98%) and specificity (around 96%). Anti-endomysium antibodies-IgA (EMA), on the other hand, have close to 100% specificity and a sensitivity of greater than 90%. The interplay between gliadin peptides and TG2 is responsible for the generation of novel antigenic epitopes, the TG2-generated deamidated gliadin peptides. Such peptides represent much more celiac disease-specific epitopes than native peptides, and deamidated gliadin antibodies (DGP) have shown promising results as serological markers for celiac disease. Serology has also been employed in monitoring the response to a gluten-free diet.
Despite the gluten-free diet being so effective, there is a growing demand for alternative treatment options. In the future, new forms of treatment may include the use of gluten-degrading enzymes to be ingested with meals, the development of alternative, gluten-free grains by genetic modification, the use of substrates regulating intestinal permeability to prevent gluten entry across the epithelium, and, finally, the availability of different forms of immunotherapy.
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