Autophagy and Crohn's disease: at the crossroads of infection, inflammation, immunity, and cancer

Curr Mol Med. 2010 Jul;10(5):486-502. doi: 10.2174/156652410791608252.


Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) are common inflammatory disorders of the gastrointestinal tract that include ulcerative colitis (UC) and Crohn's disease (CD). The incidences of IBD are high in North America and Europe, affecting as many as one in 500 people. These diseases are associated with high morbidity and mortality. Colorectal cancer risk is also increased in IBD, correlating with inflammation severity and duration. IBD are now recognized as complex multigenetic disorders involving at least 32 different risk loci. In 2007, two different autophagy-related genes, ATG16L1 (autophagy-related gene 16-like 1) and IRGM (immunity-related GTPase M) were shown to be specifically involved in CD susceptibility by three independent genome-wide association studies. Soon afterwards, more than forty studies confirmed the involvement of ATG16L1 and IRGM variants in CD susceptibility and gave new information on the importance of macroautophagy (hereafter referred to as autophagy) in the control of infection, inflammation, immunity and cancer. In this review, we discuss how such findings have undoubtedly changed our understanding of CD pathogenesis. A unifying autophagy model then emerges that may help in understanding the development of CD from bacterial infection, to inflammation and finally cancer. The Pandora's box is now open, releasing a wave of hope for new therapeutic strategies in treating Crohn's disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autophagy*
  • Bacterial Infections / complications*
  • Crohn Disease / complications*
  • Crohn Disease / immunology
  • Crohn Disease / microbiology
  • Crohn Disease / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Immunity / immunology*
  • Inflammation / complications*
  • Neoplasms / complications*