Stress-induced changes in intestinal transit in the rat: a model for irritable bowel syndrome

Gastroenterology. 1988 Mar;94(3):611-21. doi: 10.1016/0016-5085(88)90231-4.


Stress in humans commonly results in gastrointestinal dysfunction, which is characterized by its symptomatology because the etiology is completely unknown. We developed an animal model in which to study the effects of stress on the gastrointestinal tract, and characterized the model as a stressor by evaluating endocrine and analgesic responses to mild restraint. Mild restraint (wrap restraint) elevated plasma levels of adrenocorticotropic hormone and beta-endorphin, and caused analgesia. The different regions of the gastrointestinal tract responded differently to the stress stimulus. Gastric emptying was not affected, small intestinal transit was inhibited, and large intestinal transit was stimulated by stress, and there was an associated increase in fecal excretion. Wrap-restraint stress did not result in the formation of ulcers. There was a strong correlation between stress-induced adrenocorticotropic hormone release and stress-induced intestinal dysfunction over a 24-h period that suggested a circadian influence. However, neither exogenous adrenocorticotropic hormone nor beta-endorphin had any effect on intestinal transit. Furthermore, neither adrenalectomy nor hypophysectomy prevented the response of the intestine to stress, suggesting that neither adrenal nor pituitary-derived factors are responsible for mediating the effects of stress on the gut. We conclude that wrap-restraint stress produces different effects on different regions of the intestine, suggesting that the small and large intestines are independently regulated and can respond differently to different stimuli. There were similarities between the intestinal effects of wrap-restraint stress in rats and intestinal symptoms associated with stress and irritable bowel syndrome in humans. Therefore, wrap restraint may be an appropriate animal model in which to study stress-related intestinal dysfunction. The mechanisms by which stress affects intestinal transit are still unresolved; however, the intestinal effects of stress are not mediated by either pituitary or adrenally derived factors.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone / blood
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Motility*
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / physiopathology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Strains
  • Stress, Physiological / blood
  • Stress, Physiological / metabolism
  • Stress, Physiological / physiopathology*
  • beta-Endorphin / metabolism


  • beta-Endorphin
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone