Effects of neonatal maternal separation on neurochemical and sensory response to colonic distension in a rat model of irritable bowel syndrome

Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2007 Mar;292(3):G849-56. doi: 10.1152/ajpgi.00400.2006. Epub 2006 Nov 16.


Early life stress has been implicated as a risk factor for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). We studied the effect of neonatal maternal separation on the visceromotor response and the expression of c-fos, 5-HT, and its receptors/transporters along the brain-gut axis in an animal model of IBS. Male neonatal Sprague-Dawley rats were randomly assigned to a 3-h daily maternal separation (MS) or nonhandling (NH) on postnatal days 2-21. Colorectal balloon distention (CRD) was performed for assessment of abdominal withdrawal reflex as a surrogate marker of visceral pain. Tissues from dorsal raphe nucleus in midbrain, lumbar-sacral cord, and distal colon were harvested for semiquantitative analysis of c-fos and 5-HT. The expression of 5-HT expression, 5-HT3 receptors, and 5-HT transporter were analyzed by RT-PCR. Pain threshold was significantly lower in MS than NH rats. The abdominal withdrawal reflex score in response to CRD in MS rats was significantly higher with distension pressures of 40, 60, and 80 mmHg. In MS rats, the number of c-fos-like immunoreactive nuclei at dorsal horn of lumbar-sacral spinal cord increased significantly after CRD. 5-HT content in the spinal cord of MS rats was significant higher. In the colon, both 5-HT-positive cell number and 5-HT content were comparable between MS and NH groups before CRD. Post-CRD only MS rats had significant increase in 5-HT content. Protein and mRNA expression levels of 5-HT3 receptors and 5-HT transporter were similar in MS and NH rats. Neonatal maternal separation stress predisposes rats to exaggerated neurochemical responses and visceral hyperalgesia in colon mimicking IBS.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Catheterization
  • Cholangitis / pathology
  • Colon / innervation
  • Colon / metabolism
  • Colon / physiopathology*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Gene Expression
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / metabolism
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Maternal Deprivation*
  • Pain Threshold
  • Pressure
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos / metabolism
  • Raphe Nuclei / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Receptors, Serotonin, 5-HT3 / genetics
  • Receptors, Serotonin, 5-HT3 / metabolism
  • Reflex / physiology
  • Serotonin / metabolism
  • Serotonin Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins / genetics
  • Serotonin Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins / metabolism
  • Spinal Cord / metabolism
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*


  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos
  • Receptors, Serotonin, 5-HT3
  • Serotonin Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins
  • Serotonin