Alterations in DNA may determine the development of Crohn’s disease (CD), as suggested by a study entitled, “Two-stage Genome-wide Methylation Profiling in Childhood-onset Crohn’s Disease Implicates Epigenetic Alterations at the VMP1/MIR21 and HLA Loci,” conducted at the University of Edinburgh and recently published at the Inflammatory Bowel Diseases journal, the official journal of the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA). The research focused on epigenetic changes across the genome in children who suffer from the disease that may be related to key environmental exposures and found compelling evidence of alterations.
Led by Professor Jack Satsangi from the University of Edinburgh, the study analyzed data about recently diagnosed and untreated children with CD, and found changes at 65 different sites across the patients’ genome, which reveal the impact of a wide range of environmental factors on genes. The findings may have implications not only in the understanding of how genes interact with the environment, but also in the clinical management of the disease.
During the genome-wide study, the scientific team was able to identify 19 sites of epigenetic changes clustering, pointing at genetic pathways that they believe may be relevant to CD development. The researchers also analyzed a group of children who had already been treated for CD and a group of treated adults and the results were similar.
Two specific gene locations (loci) are thought to be highly significant to the disease development, since they are the genes responsible for immune and cellular functions. Researchers believe that these loci may be used as biomarkers to perform diagnostics.
Despite the fact that further research is needed to understand the implications of the study findings, the investigators believe that it could lead to advanced management of the disease. “There are exciting and immediate implications for early clinical translation, the discovery of easily accessible biomarkers in peripheral blood to predict disease susceptibility, progression or response to therapy and the potential for new therapeutic targets,” the researchers wrote in the article.