Evolutionary Developments in Interpreting the  Gluten-Induced Mucosal Celiac Lesion: An  Archimedian Heuristic

Michael N Marsh, Calvin J Heal
Nutrients 2017 February 28, 9 (3)
The evolving history of the small intestinal biopsy and its interpretation-and misinterpretations-are described in this paper. Certain interpretative errors in the technical approaches to histological assessment are highlighted-even though we may never be rid of them. For example, mucosal "flattening" does not reduce individual villi to their cores, as still seems to be widely believed. Neither is the mucosa undergoing an atrophic process-since it can recover structurally. Rather, the intestinal mucosa manifests a vast hypertrophic response resulting in the formation of large plateaus formed from partially reduced villi and their amalgamation with the now increased height and width of the inter-villous ridges: this is associated with considerable increases in crypt volumes. Sections through mosaic plateaus gives an erroneous impression of the presence of stunted, flat-topped villi which continues to encourage both the continued use of irrelevant "atrophy" terminologies and a marked failure to perceive what random sections through mosaic plateaus actually look like. While reviewing the extensive 40+ year literature on mucosal analysis, we extracted data on intraepithelial lymphocytes (IEL) counts from 607 biopsies, and applied receiver-operating characteristic (ROC)-curve analysis. From that perspective, it appears that counting IEL/100 enterocyte nuclei in routine haematoxylin and eosin (H&E) sections provides the most useful discriminator of celiac mucosae at histological level, with an effective cut-off of 27 IEL, and offering a very high sensitivity with few false negatives. ROC-curve analysis also revealed the somewhat lesser accuracies of either CD3+ or γδ+ IEL counts. Current official guidelines seem to be somewhat inadequate in clearly defining the spectrum of gluten-induced mucosal pathologies and how they could be optimally interpreted, as well as in promoting the ideal manner for physicians and pathologists to interact in interpreting intestinal mucosae submitted for analysis. Future trends should incorporate 3-D printing and computerised modelling in order to exemplify the subtle micro-anatomical features associated with the crypt-villus interzone. The latter needs precise delineation with use of mRNA in-section assays for brush border enzymes such as alkaline phosphate and esterase. Other additional approaches are needed to facilitate recognition and interpretation of the features of this important inter-zone, such as wells, basins and hypertrophic alterations in the size of inter-villous ridges. The 3-D computerised models could considerably expand our understandings of the microvasculature and its changes-in relation both to crypt hypertrophy, in addition to the partial attrition and subsequent regrowth of villi from the inter-villous ridges during the flattening and recovery processes, respectively.

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