Celiac disease permanently reshapes immune cells in the intestine

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder caused by an immune response to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. When someone with celiac disease eats gluten, the immune system mistakenly causes chronic inflammation in the small intestine. Over time, this can damage the small intestine, prevent the absorption of nutrients and cause diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss, and anemia, among many other symptoms.

Tissue-resident lymphocytes are immune cells that help maintain and protect our tissues at barrier sites, like the lining of the intestine. In the video above, Bana Jabri, MD, PhD, the Sarah and Harold Lincoln Thompson Professor of Medicine, Pathology and Pediatrics at the University of Chicago, and Toufic Mayassi, a graduate student in the Committee on Immunology, discuss their research focused on understanding how chronic inflammation in celiac disease impacts tissue-resident lymphocytes.

They were able to uncover that tissue-resident lymphocytes normally found in the healthy intestine were permanently displaced in patients with celiac disease in favor of new cells that showed sensitivity to gluten, even in those who had gone on a gluten free diet. The study showed that chronic inflammation in patients with celiac disease permanently “scars” the community of immune cells in the small intestine, which may have a lasting impact on how the gut responds in the future.

The new research was published in this week’s edition of Cell.

Video by Tim Brown

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Things You’re Too Embarrassed To Ask A Doctor is UChicago Medicine’s podcast dedicated to answering some of the most searched medical questions on the Internet. On this episode, pediatric gastroenterologist Ritu Verma lets listeners know whether what they’re seeing and smelling in their babies’ diapers warrants a visit to the doctor, and tells us why we should feel free to use the word “poop” at the dinner table.