Susceptibility to Crohn's disease, a complex inflammatory disease, is influenced by common variants at many loci. The common exonic synonymous SNP (c.313C>T) in IRGM, found in strong linkage disequilibrium with a deletion polymorphism, has been classified as non-causative because of the absence of an alteration in the IRGM protein sequence or splice sites. Here we show that a family of microRNAs (miRNAs), miR-196, is overexpressed in the inflammatory intestinal epithelia of individuals with Crohn's disease and downregulates the IRGM protective variant (c.313C) but not the risk-associated allele (c.313T). Subsequent loss of tight regulation of IRGM expression compromises control of intracellular replication of Crohn's disease-associated adherent invasive Escherichia coli by autophagy. These results suggest that the association of IRGM with Crohn's disease arises from a miRNA-based alteration in IRGM regulation that affects the efficacy of autophagy, thereby implicating a synonymous polymorphism as a likely causal variant.