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Pain. 2013 Dec;154 Suppl 1:S63-70. doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2013.09.008. Epub 2013 Sep 8.

Stress and visceral pain: focusing on irritable bowel syndrome.

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Department of Behavioral Medicine, Tohoku University Graduate School of Medicine, Sendai, Japan. Electronic address:


Recent advances in brain science have shown that the brain function encoding emotion depends on interoceptive signals such as visceral pain. Visceral pain arose early in our evolutionary history. Bottom-up processing from gut-to-brain and top-down autonomic/neuroendocrine mechanisms in brain-to-gut signaling constitute a circuit. Brain imaging techniques have enabled us to depict the visceral pain pathway as well as the related emotional circuit. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is characterized by chronic recurrent abdominal pain or abdominal discomfort associated with bowel dysfunction. It is also thought to be a disorder of the brain-gut link associated with an exaggerated response to stress. Corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), a major mediator of the stress response in the brain-gut axis, is an obvious candidate in the pathophysiology of IBS. Indeed, administration of CRH has been shown to aggravate the visceral sensorimotor response in IBS patients, and the administration of peptidergic CRH antagonists seems to alleviate IBS pathophysiology. Serotonin (5-HT) is another likely candidate associated with brain-gut function in IBS, as 5-HT3 antagonists, 5-HT4 agonists, and antidepressants were demonstrated to regulate 5-HT neurotransmission in IBS patients. Autonomic nervous system function, the neuroimmune axis, and the brain-gut-microbiota axis show specific profiles in IBS patients. Further studies on stress and visceral pain neuropathways in IBS patients are warranted.


Amygdala; Anterior cingulate cortex (ACC); Corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH); Dorsolateral prefronatal cortex (DLPFC); Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS); Periaqueductal gray matter (PAG); Serotonin (5-HT); Stress; Visceral pain

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