The cellobiose and mannitol differential sugar test is a non-invasive investigation of small bowel permeability, in which urinary recoveries of cellobiose and mannitol after a hyperosmolar oral load are expressed as a ratio to give a permeability index. Changes in the cellobiose:mannitol ratio often occur in coeliac disease, but some patients with abnormal permeability have normal jejunums by routine microscopy. Using computed morphometry the perimeter:lamina propria area index of jejunal biopsy samples was measured and compared with the cellobiose:mannitol ratio in three groups of patients: (i) those with coeliac disease with villous atrophy; (ii) those with normal jejunums and sugar test results: and (iii) those with normal jejunums but abnormal sugar test results. In addition to the expected difference in perimeter:lamina propria area index between patients with coeliac disease and those with normal findings (p less than 0.001), the index was also abnormal in patients with normal jejunums but abnormal sugar test results: (p less than 0.001 compared with group 1) and (0.01 greater than p greater than 0.001 compared with group 2). There was a significant overall correlation between the perimeter:lamina propria area index and cellobiose:mannitol ratio (p = 0.001). This study shows that computed jejunal morphometry can identify patients with subtle morphological changes that are related to abnormal intestinal permeability.
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