Background and Aims

Nucleotide Oligomerisation Domain 2 [NOD2] is a key gene of innate immunity which participates in the host defence against pathogens. Several loss-of-function NOD2 mutations are associated with Crohn’s disease [CD]. Their high frequencies in populations of European ancestry suggest a model of balancing selection. Because NOD2 deficiency has been associated with a resistance to Yersinia pseudotuberculosis in mice, we hypothesised that NOD2 mutations have been selected during past plague outbreaks due to the closely related bacterium Yersinia pestis.


Contemporary frequencies of the main CD-associated NOD2 mutations [R702W, G908R, and 1007fs], measured in healthy people from European and Mediterranean countries, were collected from 60 studies via a PubMed search. Plague exposure was calculated from a dataset providing outbreaks from 1346 to 1860 in Europe and the Mediterranean Bassin. A plague index was built to capture the intensity of plague exposure in the studied geographical areas.


NOD2 mutation frequencies were associated with the past exposure to plague. Statistical significance was obtained for the most frequent mutation [R702W, p = 0.03] and for the pooled three mutations [p = 0.023]. The association remained significant when putative demographic biases were considered.


This result argues for a selection of CD-associated NOD2 mutations by plague outbreaks and further questioned the role of exposure to enteropathogenic Yersinia species in CD.