Food and Behaviour Research

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Clinical findings and anti-neuronal antibodies in coeliac disease with neurological disorders

Volta, U., De Giorgio, R., Petrolini, N., Stangbellini, V., Barbara, G., Granito, A., De Ponti, F., Corinaldesi, R., Bianchi, F.B. (2002) Scand J Gastroenterol.  37(11) 1276-81. 

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BACKGROUND: Little is known about the clinical and immunological features of coeliac disease patients with neurological disorders. In a large series of adult coeliac disease patients, we investigated the prevalence of neurological disorders and anti-neuronal antibodies, along with the clinical course.

METHODS: Neurological symptoms were investigated in 160 consecutive patients (120 F, 40 M) with biopsy-proven coeliac disease. Anti-neuronal antibodies to central/enteric nervous systems were investigated in all neurological patients, 20 unaffected ones and 20 controls.

RESULTS: Thirteen (8%) patients had neurological disorders, including epilepsy (n = 3), attention/memory impairment (n = 3), cerebellar ataxia (n = 2), peripheral neuropathy (n = 2), multiple sclerosis (n = 1), Moyamoya disease (n = 1) and Steinert's disease (n = 1). No significant demographic or clinical differences (gastrointestinal or other gluten-related signs) were found between patients with and without neurological involvement. In all but 2 of the 13 cases, the neurological disorder preceded diagnosis of coeliac disease. Neurological symptoms improved or disappeared in 7 patients who started a gluten-free diet within 6 months after neurological onset, and in none of 4 patients who began later. Prevalence of central nervous system anti-neuronal antibodies was significantly higher in neurological (61%) than in other patients (5%) (P = 0.0007) or controls (0%) (P = 0.00001).

CONCLUSIONS: Coeliac disease can sometimes present in the guise of a neurological disorder, which may greatly improve when a gluten-free diet is started promptly. Therefore, the possible presence of coeliac disease needs to be carefully considered in patients with cerebellar ataxia, epilepsy, attention/memory impairment or peripheral neuropathy.