Table of Contents Author Guidelines Submit a Manuscript
Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology
Volume 15, Issue 4, Pages 243-247

In vivo gluten challenge in coeliac disease

HJ Ellis and PJ Ciclitira

Gastroenterology Unit (Kcl), The Rayne Institute, St Thomas’ Hospital, London, UK

Received 3 August 1999; Accepted 6 August 1999

Copyright © 2001 Hindawi Publishing Corporation. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


In vivo gluten challenge has been used since the early 1950s to study the role of cereal fractions in celiac disease. While early studies relied on crude indicators of celiac toxicity, the advent of jejunal biopsy and sophisticated immunohistochemical techniques has allowed accurate studies to be performed. Studies to determine the nature of the cereal component that is toxic to patients with celiac disease have concentrated on wheat because of its nutritional importance. A number of in vitro studies indicated the presence of one or more celiac-activating epitopes with the N-terminus of the A-gliadin molecule. In vivo challenge with three synthetic peptides subsequently indicated the toxicity of a peptide corresponding to amino acids 31 to 49 of A-gliadin. In vivo gluten challenge is the gold standard for the assessment of celiac toxicity; however, jejunal biopsy is a relatively invasive procedure, thus, other methods have been investigated. Direct infusion of the rectum with gluten has been shown to result in an increase in mucosal intraepithelial lymphocytes, occurring only in celiac patients. This method has been used to study the celiac toxicity of gliadin subfractions. The in vitro technique of small intestinal biopsy organ culture is also a useful tool and appears to give the same results as in vivo challenge. The importance of tiny amounts of gliadin in the diet, such as that which occurs in wheat starch, has been studied by in vivo challenge; this technique has clarified the position of oats in the gluten-free diet. Several studies suggest that this cereal may be included in the diet of most adult celiac patients. Studies of the transport of gliadin across the enterocyte following ingestion or challenge suggest that gliadin may be metabolized by a different pathway in celiac disease. This could result in an abnormal presentation to the immune system, triggering a pathogenic rather than a tolerogenic response.