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Snapshot Science: What Role Does the Brain’s Hypothalamus Region Play in IBD?

Published on
November 28, 2020


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CHOP researchers found the hypothalamus may play a role in conferring genetic susceptibility to inflammatory bowel disease.

The findings:

Researchers in the Center for Spatial and Functional Genomics at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia found evidence suggesting the hypothalamus, a region of the brain that controls stress response, plays a role in conferring genetic susceptibility to inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). The team identified 25 genes within neurons of the hypothalamus that are involved in IBD risk — 11 of which are already known to be associated with stress response, and seven of which they also found in organoids derived from colon cells (a region more commonly studied in the context of IBD).

Why it matters:

Previous epidemiological research suggested an overlap between IBD, stress, and depression, with such studies showing stress can increase disease activity in IBD. Now, scientists have the genomics data to support that association, warranting further study into the hypothalamus’ role in IBD pathogenesis. The more researchers learn about IBD’s pathogenesis, the more opportunities they may have to tackle IBD from different approaches, in addition to the immune system or gut.

Who conducted the study:


Struan F.A. Grant, PhD

Struan F.A. Grant, PhD, director of the Center for Spatial and Functional Genomics, conducted the study with a team of researchers from CHOP.

How they did it:

The team used sophisticated 3D genomic mapping integrated with public data from genome-wide association studies.

Quick thoughts:

“We propose that some IBD-associated variants alter the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis and stress responses, which could in turn play a role in predisposing patients to this disease and exacerbating its presentation,” Dr. Grant said in a press release. “Future studies are warranted to refine our understanding of the role of the hypothalamus in IBD onset.”

Where the study was published:

The study appeared in Cellular and Molecular Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

Where to learn more:

Learn more in the press release.