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Increased small intestinal permeability in ulcerative colitis: Rather genetic than environmental and a risk factor for extensive disease?


  • Supported by a grant from the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation (to C.B., BMRP Proposal No. IBD-0164R) and by the Charité, Universitätsmedizin Berlin. The work is part of the doctoral thesis of Nora Geissler.



A disturbed epithelial barrier could play a pivotal role in ulcerative colitis (UC). We performed a family-based study analyzing in vivo gastrointestinal permeability in patients with UC, their healthy relatives, spouses, and controls.


In total, 89 patients with UC in remission, 35 first-degree relatives (UC-R), 24 nonrelated spouses (UC-NR), and 99 healthy controls (HC) were studied. Permeability was assessed by a sugar-drink test using sucrose (gastroduodenal permeability), lactulose/mannitol (intestinal permeability), and sucralose (colonic permeability). Data were correlated with clinical characteristics including medical treatment.


Increased intestinal permeability was detected significantly more often in UC patients in remission (25/89, 28.1%) compared with HC (6/99, 6.1%; P < 0.001). Similar results were obtained in UC-R (7/35, 20.0%; P = 0.01 compared with HC) regardless of sharing the same household with the patients or not. No difference was found between UC-NR (3/24, 12.5%) and HC. Notably, in UC patients increased intestinal permeability was found in 12/28 patients (42.9%) with pancolitis, 7/30 (23.3%) patients with left-sided colitis, and in 2/19 (10.5%) patients with proctitis (P = 0.04). Gastroduodenal and colonic permeability were similar in all groups. Among patients on azathioprine, increased intestinal permeability was only seen in 1/18 (5.6%) patients. In contrast, in 24/70 (34.3%) patients without azathioprine, an increased intestinal permeability was found (P = 0.005).


An increased intestinal but not colonic permeability was found in UC patients in clinical remission that could mark a new risk factor for extensive disease location. Similar findings in healthy relatives but not spouses suggest that this barrier defect is genetically determined. (Inflamm Bowel Dis 2012)