The immunopathogenesis of celiac disease reveals possible therapies beyond the gluten-free diet
Celiac disease is a T cell-mediated autoimmune inflammatory disease of the small intestine that is activated by gluten. The diagnosis of celiac disease is challenging as patients display a wide range of symptoms and some are asymptomatic. A lifelong gluten-free diet is the only currently approved treatment of celiac disease. Although the diet is safe and effective, the compliance rates and patient acceptance vary. Furthermore, many patients treated with a gluten-free diet continue to be mildly to severely symptomatic with persistent histological abnormalities, and a small number of patients develop refractory celiac disease. New therapeutic adjuncts and potential alternatives to the gluten-free diet could improve the treatment options for these patients. Advances in understanding the immunopathogenesis of celiac disease have suggested several types of therapeutic strategies that may augment or supplant the gluten-free diet. Some of these strategies attempt to decrease the immunogenicity of gluten-containing grains by manipulating the grain itself or by using oral enzymes to break down immunogenic peptides that normally remain intact during digestion. Other strategies focus on preventing the absorption of these peptides, preventing tissue transglutaminase from rendering gluten peptides more immunogenic, or inhibiting their binding to celiac disease-specific antigen-presenting molecules. Strategies that limit T cell migration to the small intestine or that reestablish mucosal homeostasis and tolerance to gluten antigens are also being explored. Additionally, it is vital to develop new therapeutic options for refractory celiac disease patients. This review highlights therapeutic strategies that may ultimately improve the health and well-being of individuals with celiac disease.