In coeliac disease (CD) immunological abnormalities are not confined to the small bowel and it has been suggested that changes in peripheral blood lymphocytes (PBL), such as lymphopenia and increased T-cell activation, may predispose to malignant or autoimmune complications of this condition. In the light of the recent findings about the Fas-Fas ligand (FasL) system in regulating lymphocyte homeostasis, the aim of the present study was to investigate peripheral lymphocyte Fas-mediated apoptosis in CD to establish whether the homeostatic role of apoptosis in peripheral T-cell selection is maintained. Moreover, because a soluble form of Fas has been described to be functionally implicated in the Fas signalling system, suggesting a relationship between some disorders and soluble Fas function, we measured levels of soluble Fas in sera of coeliac patients and analysed the relationship between these levels and the proportions of apoptotic and Fas+ PBL to further explore the function of the Fas-FasL pathway in this condition. Finally, we evaluated whether the increased prevalence of anticardiolipin antibodies, recently described in CD, could be related to PBL apoptosis in this condition. We demonstrated an increased apoptosis and higher levels of Fas and FasL expression in PBL isolated from untreated coeliac patients when compared to treated coeliac patients and controls. In addition, low levels of soluble Fas and a significant positive correlation between anticardiolipin antibodies and PBL apoptosis were found in untreated CD. Then, our results showed an increased susceptibility of PBL to undergo Fas-mediated apoptosis in active CD. This increased apoptosis could be responsible for both lymphopenia and immunogenic exposure of phospholipids with subsequent production of autoantibodies.
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