Family studies in Crohn's disease: new horizons in understanding disease pathogenesis, risk and prevention

Gut. 2012 Feb;61(2):311-8. doi: 10.1136/gut.2011.238568. Epub 2011 May 11.


Crohn's disease (CD) is an incurable intestinal disorder in which the loss of immune tolerance to the commensal gut microbiota leads to chronic inflammation. The reason this occurs in specific individuals is unclear; however, a genetic predisposition is fundamental and relatives of patients with CD are at significant risk of developing the disease. Knowledge relating to the genetic loci that predispose to CD is accumulating, which raises the possibility of disease prediction and prevention in susceptible populations. However, the genetic basis of CD is complex and genotyping alone is likely to be insufficient to predict disease risk accurately. Specific physiological abnormalities associated with CD, such as increased intestinal permeability and raised faecal calprotectin, are also abnormal in some relatives of patients with CD. The combination of genotypic factors and biomarkers of risk makes the development of models of disease prediction a realistic possibility. Furthermore, enhanced understanding of the genotype and phenotype of the at-risk state in relatives of patients with CD allows the earliest stages in the pathogenesis of CD to be investigated and may allow intervention to prevent disease onset. This article reviews current knowledge of the at-risk phenotype in relatives of patients with CD and focuses on the implications for the design of future studies.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers
  • Crohn Disease / genetics*
  • Crohn Disease / immunology
  • Crohn Disease / microbiology
  • Crohn Disease / prevention & control
  • Gene-Environment Interaction
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Genome-Wide Association Study
  • Genotype
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Mucosa / immunology
  • Intestinal Mucosa / metabolism
  • Intestinal Mucosa / microbiology
  • Phenotype
  • Prognosis
  • Risk Factors


  • Biomarkers