The brain and the gut are engaged in continual crosstalk along a number of pathways collectively termed the 'brain-gut axis'. Over recent years it has become increasingly clear that dysregulation of the axis at a number of levels can result in disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). With recent advances in neuroimaging technologies, insights into the neurobiology of IBS are beginning to emerge. However the cognitive neurobiology of IBS has remained relatively unexplored to date. In this review we summarise the available data on cognitive function in IBS. Moreover, we specifically address three key pathophysiological factors, namely; stress, immune activation and chronic pain, together with other factors involved in the manifestation of IBS, and explore how each of these components may impact centrally, what neurobiological mechanisms might be involved, and consider the implications for cognitive functioning in IBS. We conclude that each factor addressed could significantly impinge on central nervous system function, supporting the view that future research efforts must be directed towards a detailed assessment of cognitive function in IBS.
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