Weighted Gene Co-Expression Network Analysis Identifies a Functional Guild and Metabolite Cluster Mediating the Relationship between Mucosal Inflammation and Adherence to the Mediterranean Diet in Ulcerative Colitis

Int J Mol Sci. 2023 Apr 15;24(8):7323. doi: 10.3390/ijms24087323.


Diet influences the pathogenesis and clinical course of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). The Mediterranean diet (MD) is linked to reductions in inflammatory biomarkers and alterations in microbial taxa and metabolites associated with health. We aimed to identify features of the gut microbiome that mediate the relationship between the MD and fecal calprotectin (FCP) in ulcerative colitis (UC). Weighted gene co-expression network analysis (WGCNA) was used to identify modules of co-abundant microbial taxa and metabolites correlated with the MD and FCP. The features considered were gut microbial taxa, serum metabolites, dietary components, short-chain fatty acid and bile acid profiles in participants that experienced an increase (n = 13) or decrease in FCP (n = 16) over eight weeks. WGCNA revealed ten modules containing sixteen key features that acted as key mediators between the MD and FCP. Three taxa (Faecalibacterium prausnitzii, Dorea longicatena, Roseburia inulinivorans) and a cluster of four metabolites (benzyl alcohol, 3-hydroxyphenylacetate, 3-4-hydroxyphenylacetate and phenylacetate) demonstrated a strong mediating effect (ACME: -1.23, p = 0.004). This study identified a novel association between diet, inflammation and the gut microbiome, providing new insights into the underlying mechanisms of how a MD may influence IBD. See clinicaltrials.gov (NCT04474561).

Keywords: diet; inflammatory bowel disease; metabolomics; microbiome; ulcerative colitis; weighted gene co-expression analysis (WGCNA).

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers
  • Colitis, Ulcerative* / microbiology
  • Diet, Mediterranean*
  • Feces / microbiology
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / genetics
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases* / microbiology


  • Biomarkers

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT04474561

Grants and funding

The study was funded by Nutricia North America and Alberta’s Collaboration of Excellence for Nutrition in Digestive Diseases (Ascend), Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada.