Background: Despite strong evidence implicating immune dysfunction and genetic predisposition in the pathogenesis of the chronic inflammatory bowel diseases Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, the importance of the genes of the major histocompatibility complex remains uncertain. We have investigated the contribution of HLA DRB1 and DQB genes by the strategies of non-parametric linkage analysis (affected sibling pair method) as well as association study. The relation between genotype and phenotype was examined in detail.
Methods: For linkage analysis 74 families in whom two or more siblings had inflammatory bowel disease were studied. A total of 83 affected sibling pairs were involved: in 42 pairs both siblings had Crohn's disease; in 29 both had ulcerative colitis; in 12 one sibling had Crohn's disease, the other ulcerative colitis. For the association study there were 175 patients with ulcerative colitis, 173 with Crohn's disease, and 472 controls. Details of sex, age of onset, disease extent, and family history were analysed. 24 patients with ulcerative colitis and 92 with Crohn's disease required surgery for refractory disease. HLA DRB1 and DQB1 gene-typing was performed by polymerase chain reaction with sequence-specific primers.
Findings: In ulcerative colitis, the sharing of alleles among affected sibling pairs provided evidence for linkage with DRB1 locus (p = 0.017, chi2 = 5.32). Of 29 affected sibling pairs studied, only one pair shared no DRB1 DQB haplotypes. 15 shared two DRB DQB haplotypes. In contrast, no linkage was noted for Crohn's disease (42 sibling pairs; p = 0.30, chi2 = 0.16) or for inflammatory bowel disease overall (83 sibling pairs, p = 0.16, chi2 = 2.28). In the association study the rare DRB1*103 (8.3% vs 3.2% in controls) and DRB1*12 (8.6% vs 2.1% in controls) alleles were associated with ulcerative colitis (p = 0.0074, chi2 = 7.22, odds ratio OR = 2.9 [95% CI 1.3-6.4] and p = 0.0056, chi2 = 12.63, OR = 4.33 [1.8-11.0] respectively). No association with alleles representing DR2 (p = 0.55, chi2 = 0.34) was noted. No overall association was seen in Crohn's disease. In ulcerative colitis, the frequency of DRB1*0301 DQB*0201 (DR3 DQ2) was reduced in females (9.8% vs 26.3% in controls, p = 0.037, chi2 = 8.39 OR = 0.34 [0.15-0.71]), particularly in those with distal disease (2.3%, p = 0.001 vs controls, chi2 = 11.35, OR = 0.07 [0.00-0.39]). In both males and females, the DR3 DQ2 haplotype was predictive of extensive ulcerative colitis (32.9% vs 10.7% in distal disease, p < 0.01, chi2 = 10.94, OR 4.09 [1.70-10.6]) but not of need for surgery (p = 0.93, chi2 = 0.01).
Interpretation: These data provide strong evidence for genetic heterogeneity in inflammatory bowel disease. Genes of the major histocompatibility complex are implicated as important inherited determinants of susceptibility to ulcerative colitis and may also influence the pattern of disease. In Crohn's disease, important susceptibility genes are likely to exist outside the HLA region.