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The Effects of Physical and Psychological Stress on the Gastrointestinal Tract: Lessons from Animal Models

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Physical and psychological stresses are widely accepted as triggers and / or modifiers of the clinical course of diverse gastrointestinal disorders such as peptic ulcer, irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease. Growing experimental evidence from a variety of models such as immobilization, thermal injury or early maternal deprivation in laboratory animals uniformly supports the ability of stress to induce the development of gastric ulcers, altered gastrointestinal motility and ion secretion, and increased intestinal permeability leading to the passage of antigens to the lamina propria and bacterial translocation. Stress can also synergize with other pathogenic factors such as Helicobacter pylori, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or colitisinducing chemicals to produce gastrointestinal disease. The brain-gut axis provides the anatomical basis through emotions and environmental influences modulate the gastrointestinal function through the regulation of gastrointestinal immune system and mucosal inflammation; in this sense, mucosal mast cells - at cellular level - and corticotropin releasing factor (CRF) - at molecular level - seem to play a crucial role. On the other hand, an array of adaptive responses have been evolved in order to maintain the homeostasis and to ensure the survival of the individual. In the gut mucosa anti-inflammatory pathways counteract the deleterious effect of the stressful stimuli on the gastrointestinal homeostasis. In the present review we discuss the several experimental approaches used to mimic human stressful events or chronic stress in laboratory animals, the evidence of stress-induced gastrointestinal inflammation and dysfunction derived from them, and the involved cellular and molecular mechanisms that are being discovered during the last years.





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Keywords: Animal models; IBD; brain gut axis; stress

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2008

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  • Current Molecular Medicine is an interdisciplinary journal focused on providing the readership with current and comprehensive reviews on fundamental molecular mechanisms of disease pathogenesis, the development of molecular-diagnosis and/or novel approaches to rational treatment. The reviews should be of significant interest to basic researchers and clinical investigators in molecular medicine. Periodically the journal will invite guest editors to devote an issue on a basic research area that shows promise to advance our understanding of the molecular mechanism(s) of a disease or has potential for clinical applications.
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