Stress and the Microbiota-Gut-Brain Axis in Visceral Pain: Relevance to Irritable Bowel Syndrome

CNS Neurosci Ther. 2016 Feb;22(2):102-17. doi: 10.1111/cns.12490. Epub 2015 Dec 10.


Visceral pain is a global term used to describe pain originating from the internal organs of the body, which affects a significant proportion of the population and is a common feature of functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGIDs) such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). While IBS is multifactorial, with no single etiology to completely explain the disorder, many patients also experience comorbid behavioral disorders, such as anxiety or depression; thus, IBS is described as a disorder of the gut-brain axis. Stress is implicated in the development and exacerbation of visceral pain disorders. Chronic stress can modify central pain circuitry, as well as change motility and permeability throughout the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. More recently, the role of the gut microbiota in the bidirectional communication along the gut-brain axis, and subsequent changes in behavior, has emerged. Thus, stress and the gut microbiota can interact through complementary or opposing factors to influence visceral nociceptive behaviors. This review will highlight the evidence by which stress and the gut microbiota interact in the regulation of visceral nociception. We will focus on the influence of stress on the microbiota and the mechanisms by which microbiota can affect the stress response and behavioral outcomes with an emphasis on visceral pain.

Keywords: Brain-Gut axis; Gut microbiota; Stress; Visceral Pain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Clinical Trials as Topic / methods
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / physiology*
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / metabolism*
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / psychology
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology
  • Visceral Pain / metabolism*
  • Visceral Pain / psychology