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PMCID: PMC5714513 DOI: 10.1038/pr.2016.260


BACKGROUND: The genetic basis of dysfunctional immune responses in necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) remains unknown. We hypothesized that variants in nucleotide binding and oligomerization domain (NOD)-like receptors (NLRs) and autophagy (ATG) genes modulate vulnerability to NEC.

METHODS: We genotyped a multi-center cohort of premature infants with and without NEC for NOD1, NOD2, ATG16L1, CARD8, and NLRP3 variants. Chi-square tests and logistic regression were used for statistical analysis.

RESULTS: In our primary cohort (n = 1,015), 86 (8.5%) infants developed NEC. The A allele of the ATG16L1 (Thr300Ala) variant was associated with increased NEC (AA vs. AG vs. GG; 11.3 vs. 8.4 vs. 4.8%, P = 0.009). In regression models for NEC that adjusted for epidemiological confounders, GA (P = 0.033) and the AA genotype (P = 0.038) of ATG16L1 variant were associated with NEC. The association between the A allele of the ATG16L1 variant and NEC remained significant among Caucasian infants (P = 0.02). In a replication cohort (n = 259), NEC rates were highest among infants with the AA genotype but did not reach statistical significance.

CONCLUSION: We report a novel association between a hypomorphic variant in an autophagy gene (ATG16L1) and NEC in premature infants. Our data suggest that decreased autophagy arising from genetic variants may confer protection against NEC.

Journal Title

Pediatric research





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MeSH Keywords

Alleles; Autophagy; Autophagy-Related Proteins; Carrier Proteins; Cohort Studies; Enterocolitis, Necrotizing; European Continental Ancestry Group; Female; Genetic Predisposition to Disease; Genetic Variation; Genotype; Humans; Infant, Newborn; Infant, Premature; Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide


necrotizing enterocolitis; NEC; Preemies