Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) results from disordered brain-gut interactions. Identifying susceptibility genes could highlight the underlying pathophysiological mechanisms. We designed a digestive health questionnaire for UK Biobank and combined identified cases with IBS with independent cohorts. We conducted a genome-wide association study with 53,400 cases and 433,201 controls and replicated significant associations in a 23andMe panel (205,252 cases and 1,384,055 controls). Our study identified and confirmed six genetic susceptibility loci for IBS. Implicated genes included NCAM1, CADM2, PHF2/FAM120A, DOCK9, CKAP2/TPTE2P3 and BAG6. The first four are associated with mood and anxiety disorders, expressed in the nervous system, or both. Mirroring this, we also found strong genome-wide correlation between the risk of IBS and anxiety, neuroticism and depression (rg > 0.5).
Additional analyses suggested this arises due to shared pathogenic pathways rather than, for example, anxiety causing abdominal symptoms. Implicated mechanisms require further exploration to help understand the altered brain-gut interactions underlying IBS.