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Research reveals new clues for the shared origins of irritable bowel syndrome and mental health disorders

0 2 years ago

The research highlights the close relationship between brain and gut health and paves the way for the development of new treatments.

IBS is a common condition worldwide, affecting around 1 in 10 people and causing a wide range of symptoms including abdominal pain, bloating and bowel dysfunction that can significantly affect people’s lives. Diagnosis is usually made after considering other possible conditions (such as Crohn’s disease or bowel cancer), with clinical tests coming back ‘normal’. The condition often runs in families and is also more common among people who are prone to anxiety. The causes of IBS are not well understood, but an international team of researchers has now identified several genes that provide clues into the origins of IBS.

The research team, including more than 40 institutions including the University of Exeter, and coordinated by scientists in UK and Spain, looked at genetic data from 40,548 people who suffer with IBS from the UK Biobank and 12,852 from the Bellygenes initiative (a world-wide study aiming to identify genes linked to IBS) and compared them to 433,201 people without IBS (controls), focusing on individuals of European ancestry. The findings were repeated with de-identified data from the genomics company 23andMe Inc., provided by customers who have consented to research, by comparing 205,252 people with IBS to 1,384,055 controls.

The results showed that overall, the heritability of IBS (how much your genes influence the likelihood of developing a particular condition) is quite low, indicating the importance of environmental factors such as diet, stress and patterns of behaviour that may also be shared in the family environment.

However, six genetic differences (influencing the Genes NCAM1, CADM2, PHF2/FAM120A, DOCK9, CKAP2/TPTE2P3 and BAG6) were more common in people with IBS than in controls. As IBS symptoms affect the gut and bowel, it would be expected that genes associated with increased risk of IBS would be expressed there – but this is not what the researchers found. Instead, most of the altered genes appear to have more clear-cut roles in the brain and possibly the nerves which supply the gut, rather than the gut itself.

Researchers also looked for overlap between susceptibility to IBS and other physical and mental health conditions. They found that the same genetic make-up that puts people at increased risk of IBS also increases the risk for common mood and anxiety disorders such as anxiety, depression, and neuroticism, as well as insomnia.

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