A J Wills1, B Turner1, R J Lock2, S L Johnston2, D J Unsworth2 and L Fry3
1 Department of Neurology, Queen’s Medical Centre, Nottingham, UK
2 Department of Immunology, Southmead Hospital, Bristol, UK
3 Department of Dermatology, Imperial College School of Medicine, London, UK
Dr Adrian J Wills;
Received 20 December 2000
In final revised form 18 July 2001
Accepted 23 October 2001
Dermatitis herpetiformis and coeliac disease are gluten sensitive diseases, which have common immunopathological and genetic mechanisms. Neuropsychiatric complications have been reported in up to 26% of patients with coeliac disease. This is probably an overestimate, because of the chance associations with some common neurological conditions such as epilepsy. The pathogenesis is speculative but it has been postulated that gluten is neurotoxic possibly via immune mechanisms. The frequency of neurological dysfunction in patients with dermatitis herpetiformis has not been characterised. Patients with dermatitis herpetiformis might be expected to be particularly susceptible to neuronal damage as some continue to consume gluten when their dermatological symptoms are controlled by dapsone. Thirty five patients were recruited with dermatitis herpetiformis from dermatology clinics at St Mary’s Hospital, London and Queen’s Medical Centre, Nottingham and investigated for evidence of neurological abnormality. All patients underwent a full neurological examination and were asked about their neurological and general medical history by means of a structured questionnaire. Serum samples were taken and screened for the presence of anti-neuronal antibodies (anti-Hu and Yo) as well as anti-gliadin (IgA and G) anti-endomysial (IgA), and anti-tissue transglutaminase (IgA) antibodies. Neurophysiological tests were carried out where appropriate. Only two patients were identified with unexplained neurological abnormalities (one essential tremor, and one chorea). Two other patients had a history of migraine. The patient with chorea also had borderline/equivocally positive anti-Hu antibodies by immunofluorescence assay. All other samples were negative for anti-neuronal antibodies. Fifteen patients were positive for anti-gliadin antibodies (IgA and/or IgG), four for anti-endomysial antibodies (monkey oesophagus or umbilical cord), and six for anti-tissue transglutaminase antibodies. The presence of these antibodies did not correlate with the presence of neurological abnormalities. No cases of “gluten ataxia” were identified.
In conclusion, there was no convincing evidence for immune mediated neurological damage in this pilot study of dermatitis herpetiformis.
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