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Previous studies from The Gambia have shown that poor childhood growth is resistant to all but the most intense nutritional intervention and highly dependent on small bowel permeability related to enteropathy. We thus aimed to characterize the mucosal inflammatory response in rural Gambian children in relation to intestinal permeability and nutritional status. Small bowel biopsies were taken from 38 rural Gambian children (age, 0.5-3 y) with a range of nutritional and clinical states (median weight z score, -4.6; range, 0.5 to -6.4), 75% of whom had diarrhea. Morphometry was performed with immunohistochemical analysis for a range of lineage and activation markers, including proinflammatory and regulatory cytokines, and related to current clinical status and gut permeability. Comparison was made with 19 age-matched U.K. controls. All Gambian children, regardless of nutritional status, had evidence of chronic cell-mediated enteropathy with crypt hyperplasia, villous stunting, and high numbers of intraepithelial lymphocytes. CD25+ cells were 20-fold higher than in U.K. controls. Although small bowel architecture was independent of nutritional status, T cell numbers rose and B cell numbers fell with worsening nutrition, and mucosal cytokine production became biased toward a proinflammatory response, with progressive decrease of transforming growth factor-beta expression. Tropical enteropathy predates the onset of marasmus and is characterized by a cell-mediated TH1 response. Protein-energy malnutrition is associated with reduction of regulatory immune responses in the mucosal microenvironment, potentially impairing the mechanisms of oral tolerance.

Original publication




Journal article


Pediatr Res

Publication Date





306 - 311


Case-Control Studies, Child, Preschool, Cytokines, Gambia, Humans, Infant, Inflammation, Intestinal Absorption, Intestinal Diseases, Intestinal Mucosa, Intestine, Small, Lymphocytes, Nutritional Status, Rural Population, T-Lymphocytes