Role of genetic and environmental factors in British twins with inflammatory bowel disease

Inflamm Bowel Dis. 2012 Apr;18(4):725-36. doi: 10.1002/ibd.21747. Epub 2011 May 6.


Background: Twin studies provide insight into the complex interaction between genetic and environmental factors in the development of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). We assessed associations between childhood environmental factors and development of Crohn's disease (CD) and ulcerative colitis (UC) in twins.

Methods: Questionnaires on clinical demographics and exposure to environmental factors were sent to twins with IBD, their healthy co-twins, and their doctors. Kappa statistics were used to examine agreement between twin pairs and odds ratios were calculated by conditional logistic regression.

Results: In all, 250 IBD twin pairs (122 CD; 125 UC; 3 CD/UC; 28 concordant pairs) were analyzed. Concordant monozygotic twins with CD showed good agreement for disease location (κ 0.88; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.45-1.00), disease behavior (κ 1.00; 95% CI: 0.43-1.00), and moderate agreement for age at diagnosis and need for medical and surgical therapy. Concordant monozygotic twins with UC showed good agreement for disease extent (κ 0.60; CI 0.13-1.00) and use of thiopurines (κ 0.73; CI 0.10-1.00). In discordant twins, symptomatic childhood mumps infection (odds ratio [OR], 3.8; 95% CI, 1.2-11.3) and oral contraceptives (OR, 4.0; 1.1-14.2) were associated with CD. Smoking was associated with CD (OR, 4.3; 95% CI, 1.9-9.8) but inversely associated with UC (OR, 0.3; 95% CI, 0.1-0.9). Both CD and UC twins had suffered more "gastroenteritis" and spent more time with animals than their co-twins.

Conclusions: Disease phenotype in CD and disease extent in UC appeared to be genetically influenced. Smoking is a risk factor for CD but is protective for UC. Early exposure to "infections" during childhood may be associated with the development of IBD.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Child
  • Contraceptives, Oral / adverse effects
  • Diseases in Twins / epidemiology*
  • Diseases in Twins / genetics*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / genetics*
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / therapy
  • Male
  • Mumps / epidemiology
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Smoking / epidemiology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Twins / genetics
  • Twins / statistics & numerical data
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology
  • Young Adult


  • Contraceptives, Oral