Could Crohn's Disease And Ulcerative Colitis Be Inherited Through Gut Bacteria?

First Posted: Dec 16, 2014 08:09 PM EST

Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis have been thought to hold a genetic or environmental component. A recent study published in Genome Medicine further examines how some individuals dealing with these related illnesses could have inherited intestinal bacteria or had antibiotics that could have harmed the imbalance of their gut microbes.

"The intestinal bacteria, or ‘gut microbiome,' you develop at a very young age, can have a big impact on your health for the rest of your life," said lead study author Dan Knights, a University of Minnesota assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering and the Biotechnology Institute, in a news release. "We have found groups of genes that may play a role in shaping the development of imbalanced gut microbes."

As it stands, an estimated 1.6 million Americans suffer from Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis, according to the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota along with collaborators at Harvard, MIT, the University of Toronto and the University Medical Center Gronigen are hoping to move one step closer to future prevention and better treatments for those in need. 

For the study, researchers examined three independent cohorts of a total of 474 adults with IBD who lived in Boston, Mass. (USA); Toronto, Ontario (Canada); and Groningen (Netherlands). Doctors and nurses in the locations collected samples of DNA from each human subject, while the DNA of their intestinal bacteria was also collected over about a two-year period.

Study results were then replicated across two or more cohorts, showing that the human subjects' DNA was linked to the bacteria in their intestines. Patients with IBDA had lower biodiversity of bacteria and more opportunistic bacteria.

While this study confirmed that use of antibiotics is associated with a greater imbalance in the bacterial community in the intestines, previous studies have shown links between human gut bacteria and increased risk of a wide variety of diseases including diabetes, autism, heart disease, and even some forms of cancer.

"In many cases we're still learning how these bacteria influence our risk of disease, but understanding the human genetics component is a necessary step in unraveling the mystery," Knights concluded.

Research was funded in part by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation, the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America, and the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of Canada.

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