Dermatitis herpetiformis: Close to unravelling a disease

Research output: Review article

79 Citations (Scopus)


Dermatitis herpetiformis is characterised by granular IgA precipitates in the papillary dermis. In contrast to other autoimmune blistering diseases, where tissue-deposited and circulating autoantibodies recognise the same target within the skin, in dermatitis herpetiformis a serum IgA reacting with a component of the healthy papillary dermis has not been detected. Recently, the antigenic specificity of pathognomic skin-bound IgA has been clarified: the immune precipitates contain epidermal transglutaminase, an enzyme not previously detected in the papillary region of normal skin. Furthermore, serum IgA in dermatitis herpetiformis has been found to bind epidermal transglutaminase. These findings may relate to the fact, that dermatitis herpetiformis is associated with gluten sensitive enteropathy, coeliac disease, which is characterised by IgA type autoantibodies to a closely related enzyme, tissue transglutaminase. The two transglutaminases are highly homologous, and therefore, cross reactivity of the two antibodies might explain why patients with gluten sensitive enteropathy, with or without skin disease, generally have serum autoantibodies to both enzymes. There is growing evidence that dermatitis herpetiformis should be considered as the skin manifestation of gluten sensitivity developing in those patients with mild coeliac disease, who produce epidermal transglutaminase autoantibodies of high avidity and affinity. Both the skin and the small bowel diseases are gluten dependent and are strongly associated with HLA DQ with no genetic differences to explain the two phenotypes. The question should be asked whether the rash in dermatitis herpetiformis is a classic autoimmune blistering disease or whether it has an immune complex basis, which is the most likely alternative.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)83-90
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Dermatological Science
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - ápr. 1 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Dermatology

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