BACKGROUND & AIMS: It is currently unclear whether reported changes in the gut microbiome are cause or consequence of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Therefore, we studied the gut microbiome of IBD-discordant and -concordant twin pairs, which offers the unique opportunity to assess individuals at increased risk of developing IBD, namely healthy cotwins from IBD-discordant twin pairs.
METHODS: Fecal samples were obtained from 99 twins (belonging to 51 twin pairs), 495 healthy age-, sex- and BMI-matched controls, and 99 unrelated IBD patients. Whole-genome metagenomic shotgun sequencing was performed. Taxonomic and functional (pathways) composition was compared between healthy-cotwins, IBD-twins, unrelated IBD patients, and healthy controls with multivariable, i.e. adjusted for potential confounding, generalized linear models.
RESULTS: No significant differences were observed in the relative abundance of species and pathways between healthy cotwins and their IBD-twins (false discovery rate (FDR)<0.10). Compared to healthy controls, 13, 19, and 18 species, and 78, 105, and 153 pathways were found to be differentially abundant in healthy-cotwins, IBD-twins and unrelated IBD patients, respectively (FDR<0.10). Of these, 8/19 (42.1%) and 1/18 (5.6%) species, and 37/105 (35.2%) and 30/153 (19.6%) pathways overlapped between healthy cotwins and IBD-twins, and healthy cotwins and unrelated IBD patients respectively. Many of the shared species and pathways have previously been associated with IBD. The shared pathways include potentially inflammation-related pathways, for example: an increase in propionate degradation and L-arginine degradation pathways.
CONCLUSIONS: The gut microbiome of healthy cotwins from IBD-discordant twin pairs displays IBD-like signatures. These IBD-like microbiome signatures might precede the onset of IBD. However, longitudinal follow up studies are needed to infer a causal relationship.