Since in coeliac disease mucosal flattening has been suggested to result from an increased enterocyte apoptosis triggered by Fas/Fas ligand system and perform cytolytic granules, we looked for a similar mechanism in autoimmune enteropathy. Moreover, we tried to assess whether enterocyte autoantibodies, which are the hallmark of autoimmune enteropathy, may be involved in triggering enterocyte apoptosis in this condition. Immunohistochemical staining with anti-Fas, -FasL and -perforin MoAb, and TUNEL technique were applied on endoscopic duodenal biopsies of two autoimmune enteropathy patients, two untreated coeliac patients and two biopsied controls. Cytotoxicity assays were carried out by incubating peripheral blood mononuclear cells from a healthy subject (effectors) with enterocytes primed with patient or control sera (targets). In autoimmune enteropathy a large number of enterocytes were apoptotic, as in coeliac disease, whereas neither Fas/Fas ligand or perform expressions were up-regulated. On the other hand, antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity assay revealed the ability of sera from patients with autoimmune enteropathy to mediate enterocyte death through apoptosis. These results point to enterocyte autoantibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity as the prevalent mechanism of increased enterocyte apoptosis in autoimmune enteropathy but not in coeliac disease.
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