Background & aims: Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a highly prevalent disorder among women, has been associated with life stress, but the peripheral mechanisms involved remain largely unexplored.
Methods: A 20-cm jejunal segment perfusion was performed in 2 groups of young healthy women, equilibrated by menstrual phase, experiencing either low (LS; n = 13) or moderate background stress (MS; n = 11). Intestinal effluents were collected every 15 minutes, for 30 minutes under basal conditions, and for 1 hour after cold pain stress. Cardiovascular and psychological response, changes in circulating stress and gonadal hormones, and epithelial function (net water flux, albumin output and luminal release of tryptase and alpha-defensins) to cold stress were determined.
Results: Cold pain induced a psychological response stronger in the MS than in the LS group, but similar increases in heart rate, blood pressure, adrenocorticotrophic hormone, and cortisol, whereas estradiol and progesterone remained unaltered. Notably, the jejunal epithelium of MS females showed a chloride-related decrease in peak secretory response (Delta[15-0 minutes]: LS, 97.5 [68.4-135.0]; MS, 48.8 [36.6-65.0] microL/min/cm; P < .001) combined with a marked enhancement of albumin permeability (LS(AUC), 6.35 [0.9-9.6]; MS(AUC), 13.97 [8.3-23.1] mg/60 min; P = .008) after cold stress. Epithelial response in both groups was associated with similar increases in luminal tryptase and alpha-defensins release.
Conclusions: Increased exposure to life events determines a defective jejunal epithelial response to incoming stimuli. This abnormal response may represent an initial step in the development of prolonged mucosal dysfunction, a finding that could be linked to enhanced susceptibility for IBS.