Gene polymorphisms, inflammatory diseases and cancer

Proc Nutr Soc. 2002 Nov;61(4):447-56. doi: 10.1079/pns2002186.


Genes whose products play a critical role in regulation of the immune response include the human leucocyte antigen (HLA) and cytokine families of genes. The HLA genes are the most polymorphic found in the human genome, and the bulk of this polymorphism results in functional differences in expressed HLA molecules, resulting in inter-individual differences in presentation of peptide antigens to T-cells. In addition, a considerable number of cytokine-associated gene polymorphisms have been identified, the bulk of which occur in the upstream promoter sequences of these genes, which in many cases results in differential in vitro expression of the respective pro- or anti-inflammatory gene product. Particular HLA polymorphisms result in well-defined associations with a large number of immunologically-mediated diseases, including some diseases with known dietary risk factors. For example, individuals of HLA-DQA1*0501, DQB1*0201 genotype have a greater than 200-fold increased risk of developing intolerance to dietary wheat gluten (coeliac disease), and additional HLA-related factors may influence the development of malignant lymphoma within pre-existing coeliac disease. Similarly, HLA-DRB1 alleles sharing a common sequence motif constitute the primary known genetic risk factor for rheumatoid arthritis. The influence of polymorphisms associated with differential cytokine expression on disease susceptibility is currently of much interest. Most attention has been focused on associations with susceptibility to benign immunologically-mediated diseases, including a number of gut diseases. However, recent work from our laboratory indicates that cytokine polymorphisms may influence susceptibility to and prognosis in a number of different cancers, including malignant melanoma skin cancer and solid tumours which may be influenced by diet, such as prostate cancer (collaboration with the CRC/BPG UK Familial Prostate Cancer study). In addition, preliminary work suggests that dietary modulation of expression levels of certain cytokines in healthy human subjects may be genotype dependent.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / genetics
  • Celiac Disease / genetics
  • Cytokines / genetics
  • Diet
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • HLA Antigens / genetics
  • Humans
  • Immunity / genetics
  • Inflammation / genetics*
  • Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Polymorphism, Genetic*
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic


  • Cytokines
  • HLA Antigens