It's not just single genes that contribute to Crohn's disease

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Crohn's Disease

Researchers have been trying to pinpoint what causes Crohn's disease. To date, they have mapped genes that contribute to the form of IBD. But it isn't just single genes that raise of person's risk of Crohn's disease. Recently, scientists have come to understand it's how genes interact that leads to inflammatory bowel disease.

Gene interplay predicts Crohn's disease

Findings published August, 2013 by a research group from the Cleveland Clinic and University of Pittsburgh used a statistical model to find out how the interplay of genes can mean a person will develop Crohn's disease (CD). The study was an important step in understanding hereditary factors for CD.

But the researchers also found it isn't just genes that can affect the chances of developing Crohn's. Environmental factors and microbes in the intestines also have an influence.

According to the findings, individual genes, 71 of which were identified in the study, have a small impact on developing Crohn's disease. It's more about how those genes interact.


The investigators found even people who had a higher number of combined genes that put them at risk for CD only had a 24 percent higher likelihood of the disease compared to healthy people.

When the researchers added another tool that showed how the genes could potentially interact the chances of Crohn's disease increased to 27 percent that the authors say may seem small but is significant.

The study authors also found five genes in particular that they confirmed are important risks for Crohn's disease. The researchers plan to study how genes interact with environmental factors to contribute to the development of CD. The study was the first to show that understanding gene interactions could help predict who might get Crohn's disease, which could ultimately lead to ways to thwart the disease that affects up to 700,000 people in the U.S. alone.

A 2010 study for instance revealed mice carrying a CD gene risk developed IBD through interaction with a virus.


Ming-Hsi Wang, Claudio Fiocchi, Stephan Ripke, Xiaofeng Zhu, Richard H. Duerr, Jean-Paul Achkar. A Novel Approach to Detect Cumulative Genetic Effects and Genetic Interactions in Crohn’s Disease. Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, 2013; 1 DOI: 10.1097/MIB.0b013e31828706a0