Increased perception of visceral stimuli is a key feature of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). While altered resting-state functional connectivity (rsFC) has been also reported in IBS, the relationship between visceral hypersensitivity and aberrant rsFC is unknown. We therefore assessed rsFC within the salience, sensorimotor and default mode networks in patients with and without visceral hypersensitivity and in healthy controls (HCs). An exploratory resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging study was performed in 41 women with IBS and 20 HCs. Group independent component analysis was used to derive intrinsic brain networks. Rectal thresholds were determined and patients were subdivided into groups with increased (hypersensitive IBS, N = 21) or normal (normosensitive IBS, N = 20) visceral sensitivity. Between-group comparisons of rsFC were carried-out using region-of-interest analyses and peak rsFC values were extracted for correlational analyses. Relative to normosensitive IBS, hypersensitive patients showed increased positive rsFC of pregenual anterior cingulate cortex and thalamus within the salience network and of posterior insula within the sensorimotor network. When compared to both hypersensitive IBS and HCs, normosensitive IBS showed decreased positive rsFC of amygdala and decreased negative rsFC in dorsal anterior insula within the DMN. DMN and sensorimotor network rsFC were associated with rectal perception thresholds, and rsFC in posterior insula was correlated with reported symptom severity in IBS. Our exploratory findings suggest that visceral sensitivity in IBS is related to changes in FC within resting-state networks associated with interoception, salience and sensory processing. These alterations may play an important role in hypervigilance and hyperalgesia in IBS.
Keywords: Default mode network; Functional connectivity; Irritable Bowel Syndrome; Resting-state fMRI; Salience network; Sensorimotor network; Visceral hypersensitivity.