Celiac disease in pediatric patients with autoimmune hepatitis: Etiology, diagnosis, and management

Fabio Panetta, Valerio Nobili, Maria Rita Sartorelli, Raffaele Edo Papa, Francesca Ferretti, Arianna Alterio, Antonella Diamanti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Celiac disease (CD) is defined as a permanent intolerance to ingested wheat gliadins and other cereal prolamins, occurring in genetically susceptible people. Persistent elevation of serum aminotransferase activity is expression of liver damage related to CD, which occurs in two distinctive forms. The most frequent is a mild asymptomatic liver injury, with a moderate increase of serum aminotransferase activities and a mild inflammatory portal and lobular infiltrate on liver biopsy (celiac hepatitis), reversible on a gluten-free diet (GFD). More rarely, severe and progressive inflammatory liver damage, induced by an autoimmune process and identified as autoimmune hepatitis (AIH), can develop and it is generally unaffected by gluten withdrawal.Surveys that included only pediatric patients report a wide range of prevalence of CD in AIH of 11.5-46% (mean 21.5%). CD and AIH share selected combinations of genes coding for class II human leukocyte antigens, which could explain their coexistence. Increased intestinal permeability and circulation of anti-tissue transglutaminase (tTG) have also been considered as further potential causes of liver damage in CD patients. tTG in the liver and in other extraintestinal tissues could modify other external- or self-antigens and generate different neo-antigens, which are responsible for liver injury in patients with CD.Patients with AIH represent a population at high risk for developing CD; screening for CD should be integrated into the diagnostic routine of all patients with AIH, with or without gastrointestinal manifestations, before starting immunosuppressive treatments. The only currently available treatment for CD is the GFD and the supportive nutritional care for iron, calcium, and vitamin deficiencies. Due to the difficulties of a GFD, in the past decade researchers have become increasingly interested in therapeutic alternatives to continuous or intermittent use of a GFD in patients with CD. Interventions addressed to correct the defect in the intestinal barrier are currently at the most advanced stage of clinical trials. The impact of a GFD on the outcome of AIH is not clear but it seems to be ineffective in the treatment of AIH. The early detection and treatment of CD, however, may prevent progression to end-stage liver failure.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-41
Number of pages7
JournalPediatric Drugs
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • Autoimmune-hepatitis
  • Children
  • Coeliac-disease
  • Diagnostic-Screening

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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