Dietary intake alters gene expression in colon tissue: possible underlying mechanism for the influence of diet on disease

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Although the association between diet and disease is well documented, the biologic mechanisms involved have not been entirely elucidated. In this study, we evaluate how dietary intake influences gene expression to better understand the underlying mechanisms through which diet operates.


We used data from 144 individuals who had comprehensive dietary intake and gene expression data from RNAseq using normal colonic mucosa. Using the DESeq2 statistical package, we identified genes that showed statistically significant differences in expression between individuals in high-intake and low-intake categories for several dietary variables of interest adjusting for age and sex. We examined total calories, total fats, vegetable protein, animal protein, carbohydrates, trans-fatty acids, mutagen index, red meat, processed meat, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, fiber, folate, dairy products, calcium, and prudent and western dietary patterns.


Using a false discovery rate of less than 0.1, meat-related foods were statistically associated with 68 dysregulated genes, calcium with three dysregulated genes, folate with four dysregulated genes, and nonmeat-related foods with 65 dysregulated genes. With a more stringent false discovery rate of less than 0.05, there were nine meat-related dysregulated genes and 23 nonmeat-related genes. Ingenuity pathway analysis identified three major networks among genes identified as dysregulated with respect to meat-related dietary variables and three networks among genes identified as dysregulated with respect to nonmeat-related variables. The top networks (Ingenuity Pathway Analysis network score >30) associated with meat-related genes were (i) cancer, organismal injury, and abnormalities, tumor morphology, and (ii) cellular function and maintenance, cellular movement, cell death, and survival. Among genes related to nonmeat consumption variables, the top networks were (i) hematological system development and function, nervous system development and function, tissue morphology and (ii) connective tissue disorders, organismal injury, and abnormalities.


Several dietary factors were associated with gene expression in our data. These findings provide insight into the possible mechanisms by which diet may influence disease processes.

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