Mucosal Genomics Implicate Lymphocyte Activation and Lipid Metabolism in Refractory Environmental Enteric Dysfunction

Gastroenterology. 2021 May;160(6):2055-2071.e0. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2021.01.221. Epub 2021 Jan 29.


Background & aims: Environmental enteric dysfunction (EED) limits the Sustainable Development Goals of improved childhood growth and survival. We applied mucosal genomics to advance our understanding of EED.

Methods: The Study of Environmental Enteropathy and Malnutrition (SEEM) followed 416 children from birth to 24 months in a rural district in Pakistan. Biomarkers were measured at 9 months and tested for association with growth at 24 months. The duodenal methylome and transcriptome were determined in 52 undernourished SEEM participants and 42 North American controls and patients with celiac disease.

Results: After accounting for growth at study entry, circulating insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) and ferritin predicted linear growth, whereas leptin correlated with future weight gain. The EED transcriptome exhibited suppression of antioxidant, detoxification, and lipid metabolism genes, and induction of anti-microbial response, interferon, and lymphocyte activation genes. Relative to celiac disease, suppression of antioxidant and detoxification genes and induction of antimicrobial response genes were EED-specific. At the epigenetic level, EED showed hyper-methylation of epithelial metabolism and barrier function genes, and hypo-methylation of immune response and cell proliferation genes. Duodenal coexpression modules showed association between lymphocyte proliferation and epithelial metabolic genes and histologic severity, fecal energy loss, and wasting (weight-for-length/height Z < -2.0). Leptin was associated with expression of epithelial carbohydrate metabolism and stem cell renewal genes. Immune response genes were attenuated by giardia colonization.

Conclusions: Children with reduced circulating IGF-1 are more likely to experience stunting. Leptin and a gene signature for lymphocyte activation and dysregulated lipid metabolism are implicated in wasting, suggesting new approaches for EED refractory to nutritional intervention., Number: NCT03588013. (

Keywords: Anthropometrics; DNA Methylation; Intestine; RNA Sequencing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Biomarkers / urine
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Celiac Disease / genetics
  • Celiac Disease / pathology
  • Celiac Disease / physiopathology
  • Cell Proliferation / genetics
  • Child Development
  • Child, Preschool
  • Creatinine / urine
  • DNA Methylation
  • Epigenome
  • Female
  • Ferritins / blood
  • Genomics
  • Growth Disorders / etiology
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I / metabolism
  • Intestinal Diseases / complications
  • Intestinal Diseases / genetics*
  • Intestinal Diseases / pathology
  • Intestinal Diseases / physiopathology
  • Intestinal Mucosa / immunology*
  • Leptin / blood
  • Lipid Metabolism / genetics*
  • Lymphocyte Activation / genetics*
  • Lymphocytes / physiology
  • Male
  • Malnutrition / complications*
  • Oxidative Stress / genetics
  • Pakistan
  • Transcriptome


  • Biomarkers
  • IGF1 protein, human
  • Leptin
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I
  • Ferritins
  • Creatinine

Associated data