Purpose: To investigate whether acute psychological stress may activate bladder mast cells which appear to play a significant role in the pathophysiology of interstitial cystitis, a syndrome that occurs primarily in females and is characterized by urinary urgency, frequency and suprapubic pain, all of which often worsen with stress.
Materials and methods: Non-traumatic immobilization stress was used as a model of acute emotional stress by placing a rat in a plexiglass immobilizer, after first bringing each rat in the laboratory daily for 4 days to reduce the stress of handling. The rat was then anesthetized, decapitated and the bladder removed and fixed for light and electron microscopy.
Results: This type of stress resulted in activation of over 70% of bladder mast cells within 30 minutes, as evidenced by light and electron microscopy. Pretreatment of the animals with intraperitoneal administration of polyclonal antiserum to corticotropin releasing hormone had no effect on bladder mast cell activation and no nerve fibers positive for this hormone were identified in the bladder. Stress-induced bladder mast cell activation was, however, substantially reduced in animals treated neonatally with capsaicin suggesting that sensory neuropeptides, such as substance P, of which increased positive nerve fibers have been localized close to bladder mast cells, are involved in this response.
Conclusions: This is the first time that psychological stress is shown to activate bladder mast cells, apparently via the action of at least some sensory neuropeptides. These findings have implications for the pathophysiology and possible therapy of interstitial cystitis.