Stress has been shown to have both central and peripheral effects, promoting psychological illness (such as anxiety and depression), as well influencing peripheral disease in the intestine. Stress in humans can exacerbate symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), lowering visceral pain thresholds and decreasing mucosal barrier function. Studies in rodents have revealed that both acute and chronic exposure to stressors can lead to pathophysiology of the small and large intestine, including altered ion secretion and increased epithelial permeability (by both transcellular and paracellular pathways). Prolonged exposure to stress can induce low-grade inflammation, cause ultrastructural epithelial abnormalities, and alter bacterial-host interactions allowing greater microbial translocation. In this review, we discuss the stress response and the effects of both acute and chronic stress to induce pathophysiological damage to the gut. We present the potential pathways involved, and the proposed mechanisms of action mediating the effects. Furthermore, we explore the impact of early life stress on colonic physiology in neonatal rodents and the implications for gut dysfunction in adulthood.
Keywords: Stress, permeability, barrier function, ion secretion, antigen transport, enteric microbiology
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