Immunological indicators of coeliac disease activity are not altered by long-term oats challenge


Correspondence: C. F. Feighery, Department of Immunology, St. James's Hospital, Trinity College, Dublin 8, Ireland.



Coeliac disease is a gluten-sensitive enteropathy that develops in genetically susceptible individuals. The disease exhibits many features of an autoimmune disorder. These include the production of highly specific anti-endomysial autoantibodies directed against the enzyme tissue transglutaminase. It is well accepted that wheat-, barley- and rye-based foods should be excluded in the gluten-free diet. Although several studies report that oats ingestion is safe in this diet, the potential toxicity of oats remains controversial. In the current study, 46 coeliac patients ingested oats for 1 year and were investigated for a potential immunogenic or toxic effect. Stringent clinical monitoring of these patients was performed and none experienced adverse effects, despite ingestion of a mean of 286 g of oats each week. Routine histological analysis of intestinal biopsies showed improvement or no change in 95% of the samples examined. Furthermore, tissue transglutaminase expression in biopsy samples, determined quantitatively using the IN Cell Analyzer, was unchanged. Employing immunohistochemistry, oats ingestion was not associated with changes in intraepithelial lymphocyte numbers or with enterocyte proliferation as assessed by Ki-67 staining. Finally, despite the potential for tissue transglutaminase to interact with oats, neither endomysial nor tissue transglutaminase antibodies were generated in any of the patients throughout the study. To conclude, this study reaffirms the lack of oats immunogenicity and toxicity to coeliac patients. It also suggests that the antigenic stimulus caused by wheat exposure differs fundamentally from that caused by oats.