Interactions between genome and skin bacteria influence inflammatory skin diseases

30 September 2013

A German research group has found that low numbers of some species of skin bacteria are associated with certain inflammatory disorders and that the bacteria are in turn affected by the genetic makeup of the host.

Numerous recent studies have linked gut microflora with various diseases such as obesity or diabetes. Little is known, however, on how gut and skin microflora composition is controlled.

The study by researchers in the Inflammation Research Excellence Cluster — a group of collaborating institutions in Germany was published in the journal Nature Communications. Their landmark findings will open the door to identifying gene variants that control skin microbiota and to define their link to various diseases such as skin inflammatory disorders.

Outnumbered by bacteria

The human body contains more bacteria than human cells. Most of these bacteria comprise the normal gut and skin microbiota. Susceptibility to chronic inflammatory diseases is determined by immunogenetic and environmental risk factors that include these resident microbial communities. Whether these differences are causative or secondary to the altered inflammatory environment remains largely unknown.

The Inflammation Cluster Research Groups led by Saleh Ibrahim of the University of Lübeck, and John Baines of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology and Kiel University, correlated the genomic variations of hundreds of mice that partially develop skin inflammatory diseases with skin microbiota.

They showed interactions between the host genes and the microbiota contributed to disease risk for autoantibody-induced inflammatory skin disease. Furthermore they identified genetic loci contributing to skin microbiota variability, susceptibility to skin inflammation and their overlap.

For the majority of the identified microbiotal communities, reduced abundance is associated with increased disease risk, providing evidence of a primary role in protection from disease. These findings offer a promising potential for using those probiotic species of bacteria for preventative and therapeutic treatment development.

 Prof Dr John Baines said, “It appears that the skin flora is a phenotype that is partially controlled by the host genome variations. This in turn predisposes to the development of disease. The more we learn about these interactions, the more possibilities there will be for a better and more individualized treatment and prevention of skin inflammatory diseases."


Genome-wide mapping of gene-microbiota interactions in susceptibility to autoimmune skin blistering. Nature Communications. DOI: 10.1038/ncomms3462

Further information

The Inflammation Research Excellence Cluster follows a unique, interdisciplinary research approach in order to decode the causes of chonic inflammation and to develop therapies for healing. The research association brings together approximately 200 geneticists, biologists, nutritionists and physicians from Kiel University and the University of Lübeck, the Research Institute Borstel and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology, Plön, all in Germany

In Germany alone, millions of people suffer from chronic inflammation of the lungs (asthma), the skin (psoriasis), and the intestines (Crohn’s disease). The trigger is a disorder of the immune system: it incessantly activates inflammatory mediators and defence cells, thereby destroying healthy tissue. The number of sufferers increases daily.

This phenomenon of modern civilization has become the challenge for 21st Century medicine. Accordingly, in 2007 the German Federal Government and the German Research Foundation declared the decoding of the complex inflammation mechanism to be a national scientific priority.


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