Background: Visceral hyperalgesia may play an important part in the pathophysiology of the irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). We investigated the neuronal afferent pathways in healthy volunteers and IBS patients by recording evoked potentials (EPs) elicited by electrical stimulation of the colon and abdominal skin inside and outside the referred pain area.
Methods: Six healthy subjects and nine IBS patients met the inclusion criteria. Morphology and topography of EPs to painful electrical stimuli were estimated in the rectosigmoid junction and on the skin inside/outside the referred pain areas.
Results: The EPs to painful stimuli of the gut showed a shorter latency and a smaller amplitude of the first positive peak (P1) in the IBS group. The controls had a mid-latency frontal positive component after 100 ms, whereas no reliable early activation was seen in the IBS patients. In controls, a single late (>150 ms) positive component was seen, whereas the late component was biphasic in the IBS group. The EPs to painful stimuli of the two skin areas differed in IBS patients, but not in controls.
Conclusion: Differences in the EPs to electrical painful stimulation of the sigmoid colon and skin inside/outside the experimentally evoked referred pain area were seen comparing healthy subjects and IBS patients. The results indicate altered central nervous system responses.