Repeated exposure to water avoidance stress in rats: a new model for sustained visceral hyperalgesia

Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2005 Jul;289(1):G42-53. doi: 10.1152/ajpgi.00500.2004. Epub 2005 Mar 3.


Chronic stress plays an important role in the development and exacerbation of symptoms in functional gastrointestinal disorders. To better understand the mechanisms underlying this relationship, we aimed to characterize changes in visceral and somatic nociception, colonic motility, anxiety-related behavior, and mucosal immune activation in rats exposed to 10 days of chronic psychological stress. Male Wistar rats were submitted daily to either 1-h water avoidance (WA) stress or sham WA for 10 consecutive days. The visceromotor response to colorectal distension, thermal somatic nociception, and behavioral responses to an open field test were measured at baseline and after chronic WA. Fecal pellets were counted after each WA stress or sham WA session as a measure of stress-induced colonic motility. Colonic samples were collected from both groups and evaluated for structural changes and neutrophil infiltration, mast cell number by immunohistochemistry, and cytokine expression by quantitative RT-PCR. Rats exposed to chronic WA (but not sham stress) developed persistent visceral hyperalgesia, whereas only transient changes in somatic nociception were observed. Chronically stressed rats also exhibited anxiety-like behaviors, enhanced fecal pellet excretion, and small but significant increases in the mast cell numbers and the expression of IL-1beta and IFN-gamma. Visceral hyperalgesia following chronic stress persisted for at least a month. Chronic psychological stress in rats results in a robust and long-lasting alteration of visceral, but not somatic nociception. Visceral hyperalgesia is associated with other behavioral manifestations of stress sensitization but was only associated with minor colonic immune activation arguing against a primary role of mucosal immune activation in the maintenance of this phenomenon.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anxiety / immunology
  • Anxiety / physiopathology
  • Avoidance Learning
  • Chronic Disease
  • Colitis / immunology
  • Colitis / pathology
  • Colitis / physiopathology*
  • Colon / immunology
  • Colon / pathology
  • Colon / physiopathology
  • Cytokines / genetics
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Exploratory Behavior
  • Feces
  • Gastrointestinal Motility
  • Hyperalgesia / immunology
  • Hyperalgesia / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Nociceptors / physiology
  • RNA, Messenger / analysis
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Stress, Psychological / immunology
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*
  • Water


  • Cytokines
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Water