Neural and neuro-immune mechanisms of visceral hypersensitivity in irritable bowel syndrome

Bin Feng, Jun Ho La, Erica S. Schwartz, G. F. Gebhart

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

116 Scopus citations


Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is characterized as functional because a pathobiological cause is not readily apparent. Considerable evidence, however, documents that sensitizing proinflammatory and lipotoxic lipids, mast cells and their products, tryptases, enteroendocrine cells, and mononuclear phagocytes and their receptors are increased in tissues of IBS patients with colorectal hypersensitivity. It is also clear from recordings in animals of the colorectal afferent innervation that afferents exhibit long-term changes in models of persistent colorectal hypersensitivity. Such changes in afferent excitability and responses to mechanical stimuli are consistent with relief of discomfort and pain in IBS patients, including relief of referred abdominal hypersensitivity, upon intrarectal instillation of local anesthetic. In the aggregate, these experimental outcomes establish the importance of afferent drive in IBS, consistent with a larger literature with respect to other chronic conditions in which pain is a principal complaint (e.g., neuropathic pain, painful bladder syndrome, fibromyalgia). Accordingly, colorectal afferents and the environment in which these receptive endings reside constitute the focus of this review. That environment includes understudied and incompletely understood contributions from immune-competent cells resident in and recruited into the colorectum. We close this review by highlighting deficiencies in existing knowledge and identifying several areas for further investigation, resolution of which we anticipate would significantly advance our understanding of neural and neuro-immune contributions to IBS pain and hypersensitivity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)G1085-G1098
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology
Issue number10
StatePublished - May 15 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Colon
  • Immune cells
  • Neurogenic inflammation
  • Silent afferent
  • Visceral pain

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Hepatology
  • Gastroenterology
  • Physiology (medical)


Dive into the research topics of 'Neural and neuro-immune mechanisms of visceral hypersensitivity in irritable bowel syndrome'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this