BACKGROUND & AIMS: Dermatitis herpetiformis (DH) is characterized by variable degrees of enteropathy and increased intestinal permeability. Zonulin, a regulator of tight junctions, seems to play a key role in the altered intestinal permeability that characterizes the early phase of celiac disease. Our aim was to assess both intestinal permeability and serum zonulin levels in a group of patients with DH having variable grades of enteropathy.
METHODS: We studied 18 DH patients diagnosed on the basis of characteristic immunoglobulin (Ig)A granular deposits in the dermal papillae of noninvolved skin. Results were compared with those of classic celiac patients, patients with linear IgA dermatosis, and healthy controls.
RESULTS: According to Marsh's classification, 5 patients had no evidence of enteropathy (type 0), 4 patients had type II, 2 patients had type IIIb damage, and 7 patients had a more severe lesion (type IIIc). Intestinal permeability (lactulose/mannitol ratio [lac/man]) was abnormal in all patients with DH. Patients with more severe enteropathy had significantly greater permeability ( P < .05). The serum zonulin concentration (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) for patients with DH was 2.1 +/- .3 ng/mg with 14 of 16 (87.5%) patients having abnormally increased values. In contrast, patients with linear IgA dermatosis had normal histology, normal intestinal permeability, and negative celiac serology.
CONCLUSIONS: Increased intestinal permeability and zonulin up-regulation are common and concomitant findings among patients with DH, likely involved in pathogenesis. Increased permeability can be observed even in patients with no evidence of histologic damage in biopsy specimens. Patients with linear IgA dermatosis appear to be a distinct population with no evidence of gluten sensitivity.