The Neuropathology of Gluten-Related Neurological Disorders: A Systematic Review.

Nutrients. 2020;12(3)
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Coeliac disease (CD) is an autoimmune disorder triggered by the ingestion of gluten in genetically susceptible individuals. A wide range of extraintestinal manifestations has been attributed to CD, changing the classic perception of a disease limited to the intestine, to a multisystem disorder. The aim of this study was to analyse the published neuropathology of confirmed cases of gluten-related neurological dysfunction to aid our understanding of the pathogenesis. CD can therefore manifest with dental problems, consequences of malabsorption, skin and neurological disorders. This study is a systematic review of thirty-two neurological disorder focused studies. Results show that: - the neuropathological findings in gluten-related neurological disorders are widespread and not limited to the cerebellum. - the pathology is immune mediated and not related to vitamin or trace elements deficiencies. - the pathophysiology of neurological damage in the context of gluten sensitivity has an immune mediated basis. - more gluten-related neurological disorders affected men (57%), which was even higher in the ataxia group (76%). - transglutaminase 6 antibodies might be helpful in the diagnostic workup of gluten-related neurological disorders. Authors conclude that the current evidence is suggestive of both humoral and cell-mediated immunological responses. Further research is required to investigate the underlying neuropathological mechanism by characterisation of the inflammatory cell infiltrate and identification of target epitopes.


Gluten-related neurological disorders (GRND) represent a spectrum of neurological manifestations that are triggered by gluten. In coeliac disease, a T-cell mediated enteropathy is triggered by gluten in genetically predisposed individuals. The underlying pathological mechanism of the neurological dysfunction is not yet clear. The aim of this review is to collate existing neuropathological findings in GRND as a means of aiding the understanding of the pathophysiology. A systematic search of the Pubmed Database yielded 188 articles, of which 32 were included, containing 98 eligible cases with a description of pathological findings in GRND. In gluten ataxia, loss of Purkinje cells, atrophy, gliosis and astrocytosis were apparent, as well as diffuse lymphocytic infiltration and perivascular cuffing with lymphocytes. In patients with large-fiber neuropathy, nerve biopsies revealed axonopathy, loss of myelinated fibers and focal and perivascular infiltration by inflammatory cells. Inflammatory infiltrate was also observed in muscle in myopathy and in cerebrum of patients with encephalopathy and patients with epilepsy. Such changes were not seen in skin biopsies from patients with small fiber neuropathies. The findings from this systematic review suggest an immune mediated pathogenesis for GRND. Future research should focus on the characterization of the inflammatory cell infiltrates and identifying target epitopes.

Lifestyle medicine

Fundamental Clinical Imbalances : Neurological ; Immune and inflammation
Patient Centred Factors : Mediators/Gluten
Environmental Inputs : Diet ; Nutrients
Personal Lifestyle Factors : Nutrition
Functional Laboratory Testing : Not applicable

Methodological quality

Jadad score : Not applicable
Allocation concealment : Not applicable


Nutrition Evidence keywords : Gluten ; Coeliac ; Gluten-free diet ; Gluten sensitivity