Genetics of ulcerative colitis

Inflamm Bowel Dis. 2011 Mar;17(3):831-48. doi: 10.1002/ibd.21375. Epub 2010 Nov 12.


Ulcerative colitis (UC) and Crohn's disease (CD) are related polygenic inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs), with distinct and overlapping susceptibility loci. Recently, hypothesis-free genome-wide association (GWA) studies have revolutionized the field of complex disease genetics. Substantial advances have been achieved in defining the genetic architecture of IBD. To date, over 60 published IBD susceptibility loci have been discovered and replicated, of which approximately a third are associated with both UC and CD, although 21 are specific to UC and 23 to CD. In CD, the breakthrough identification of NOD2 as a susceptibility gene was followed by a rapid phase of gene discovery from GWA studies between 2006 and 2008. Progress in UC was slower; however, by initially testing hits for CD in UC, and later scanning larger UC cohorts, significant new loci for UC have been discovered, with exciting novel insights into disease pathogenesis. Notably, genes implicated in mucosal barrier function (ECM1, CDH1, HNF4α, and laminin B1) confer risk of UC; furthermore, E-cadherin is the first genetic correlation between colorectal cancer and UC. Impaired IL10 signaling has reemerged as a key pathway in intestinal inflammation, and is perhaps the most amenable to therapeutic intervention in UC. Collaborative international efforts with large meta-analyses of GWA studies and replication will yield many new UC genes. Furthermore, a large effort is required to characterize the loci found. Fine-mapping, deep resequencing, and functional studies will be critical to translating these gene discoveries into pathogenic insights, and ultimately into clinical insights and novel therapeutics.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Colitis, Ulcerative / genetics*
  • Colitis, Ulcerative / pathology
  • Genome-Wide Association Study
  • Humans