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PLoS One. 2011;6(7):e21281. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0021281. Epub 2011 Jul 8.

Potential celiac patients: a model of celiac disease pathogenesis.

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European Laboratory for Food Induced Disease, University of Naples Federico II, Naples, Italy.



Potential celiacs have the 'celiac type' HLA, positive anti-transglutaminase antibodies but no damage at small intestinal mucosa. Only a minority of them develops mucosal lesion. More than 40 genes were associated to Celiac Disease (CD) but we still do not know how those pathways transform a genetically predisposed individual into an affected person. The aim of the study is to explore the genetic features of Potential CD individuals.


127 'potential' CD patients entered the study because of positive anti-tissue transglutaminase and no mucosal lesions; about 30% of those followed for four years become frankly celiac. They were genotyped for 13 polymorphisms of 'candidate genes' and compared to controls and celiacs. Moreover, 60 biopsy specimens were used for expression studies.


Potential CD bear a lighter HLA-related risk, compared to celiac (χ(2) = 48.42; p value = 1×10(-8)). They share most of the polymorphisms of the celiacs, but the frequency of c-REL* G allele was suggestive for a difference compared to celiac (χ(2) = 5.42; p value = 0.02). One marker of the KIAA1109/IL-2/IL-21 candidate region differentiated potentials from celiac (rs4374642: χ2 = 7.17, p value = 0.01). The expression of IL-21 was completely suppressed in potentials compared to celiacs (p value = 0.02) and to controls (p value = 0.02), in contrast IL-2, KIAA1109 and c-REL expression were over-expressed.


Potential CD show genetic features slightly different from celiacs. Genetic and expression markers help to differentiate this condition. Potential CD is a precious biological model of the pathways leading to the small intestinal mucosal damage in genetically predisposed individuals.

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