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Int Immunol. 2004 Apr;16(4):579-83.

Expression of HLA-G in inflammatory bowel disease provides a potential way to distinguish between ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease.

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  • 1Department of Experimental Biology, University of Jaén, Jaén, Spain.


In addition to being involved in nutrient uptake, the epithelial mucosa constitute the first line of defense against microbial pathogens. A direct consequence of this physiological function is a very complex network of immunological interactions that lead to a strong control of the mucosal immune balance. The dysfunction of immunological tolerance is likely to be a cause of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), ulcerative colitis (UC) and Crohn's disease (CD). HLA-G is a non-classical major histocompatibility complex (HLA) class I molecule, which is highly expressed by human cytotrophoblast cells. These cells play a role in immune tolerance by protecting trophoblasts from being killed by uterine NK cells. Because of the deregulation of immune system activity in IBD, as well as the immunoregulatory role of HLA-G, we have analyzed the expression of HLA-G in intestinal biopsies of patients with UC and CD. Our study shows that the differential expression of HLA-G provides a potential way to distinguish between UC and CD. Although the reason for this differential expression is unclear, it might involve a different mechanism of immune regulation. In addition, we demonstrate that in the lamina propria of the colon of patients with UC, IL-10 is strongly expressed. In conclusion, the presence of HLA-G on the surface of intestinal epithelial cell in patients with UC lends support to the notion that this molecule may serve as a regulator of mucosal immune responses to antigens of undefined origin. Thus, this different pattern of HLA-G expression may help to differentiate between the immunopathogenesis of CD and UC.

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