Stress and the brain-gut axis in functional and chronic-inflammatory gastrointestinal diseases: A transdisciplinary challenge

Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2020 Jan:111:104501. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2019.104501. Epub 2019 Nov 2.


The broad role of stress in the brain-gut axis is widely acknowledged, with implications for multiple prevalent health conditions that are characterized by chronic gastrointestinal symptoms. These include the functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGID), such as irritable bowel syndrome and functional dyspepsia, as well as inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) like ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. Although the afferent and efferent pathways linking the gut and the brain are modulated by stress, the fields of neurogastroenterology and psychoneuroendocrinology (PNE)/ psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) remain only loosely connected. We aim to contribute to bringing these fields closer together by drawing attention to a fascinating, evolving research area, targeting an audience with a strong interest in the role of stress in health and disease. To this end, this review introduces the concept of the brain-gut axis and its major pathways, and provides a brief introduction to epidemiological and clinical aspects of FGIDs and IBD. From an interdisciplinary PNE/PNI perspective, we then detail current knowledge regarding the role of chronic and acute stress in the pathophysiology of FGID and IBD. We provide an overview of evidence regarding non-pharmacological treatment approaches that target central or peripheral stress mechanisms, and conclude with future directions, particularly those arising from recent advances in the neurosciences and discoveries surrounding the gut microbiota.

Keywords: Brain-gut axis; Chronic-inflammatory bowel diseases; Functional gastrointestinal disorders; Memory; Microbiota; Psychoneuroendocrinology; Psychoneuroimmunology; Stress; Visceral pain.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Brain / metabolism
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / physiopathology
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / psychology*
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / physiology
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / microbiology
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / physiology
  • Humans
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / physiopathology
  • Psychoneuroimmunology
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism
  • Stress, Psychological / microbiology*
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*