Clonal T cell receptor gene rearrangements in coeliac disease: implications for diagnosing refractory coeliac disease

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AimsRefractory coeliac disease type II (RCDII), a rare complication of coeliac disease (CD) associated with high morbidity, requires identification of a clonal population of phenotypically aberrant intraepithelial lymphocytes (IELs) for diagnosis. However, data regarding the frequency and significance of clonal T cell receptor (TCR) gene rearrangements (TCR-GRs) in small bowel (SB) biopsies of patients without RCDII are limited.MethodsWe analysed results of TCR-GR analyses performed on SB biopsies at our institution over a 3-year period, which were obtained from eight active CD, 172 CD on gluten-free diet (GFD), 33 RCDI, and three RCDII patients and 14 patients without CD. TCR-GR patterns were divided into clonal, polyclonal and prominent clonal peaks (PCPs) and these patterns were correlated with clinical and pathological features.ResultsClonal TCR-GR products were detected in biopsies from 67% of patients with RCDII, 17% of patients with RCDI and 6% of patients with GFD. PCPs were observed in all disease phases (range 12%–33%). There was no significant difference in the TCR-GR patterns between the non-RCDII disease categories (p=0.39). A higher frequency of surface CD3(−) IELs was noted in cases with clonal TCR-GR, but the PCP pattern did not show associations with any clinical or pathological feature. Persistence of clonal or PCP pattern on repeat biopsy was seen for up to 2 years without evidence of RCDII.ConclusionsClonal TCR-GRs are not infrequent in cases lacking features of RCDII, while PCPs are frequent in all disease phases. TCR-GR results should be assessed in conjunction with immunophenotypic, histological and clinical findings for appropriate diagnosis and classification of RCD.

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