World Journal of Gastroenterology vol:13 issue:25 pages:3438-3445
It has since long been known, from everyday experience as well as from animal and human studies, that psychological processes-both affective and cognitive-exert an influence on gastrointestinal sensorimotor function. More specifically, a link between psychological factors and visceral hypersensitivity has been suggested, mainly based on research in functional gastrointestinal disorder patients. However, until recently, the exact nature of this putative relationship remained unclear, mainly due to a lack of non-invasive methods to study the (neurobiological) mechanisms underlying this relationship in non-sleeping humans. As functional brain imaging, introduced in visceral sensory neuroscience some 10 years ago, does provide a method for in vivo study of brain-gut interactions, insight into the neurobiological mechanisms underlying visceral sensation in general and the influence of psychological factors more particularly, has rapidly grown. In this article, an overview of brain imaging evidence on gastrointestinal sensation will be given, with special emphasis on the brain mechanisms underlying the interaction between affective & cognitive processes and visceral sensation. First, the reciprocal neural pathways between the brain and the gut (brain-gut axis) will be briefly outlined, including brain imaging evidence in healthy volunteers. Second, functional brain imaging studies assessing the influence of psychological factors on brain processing of visceral sensation in healthy humans will be discussed in more detail. Finally, brain imaging work investigating differences in brain responses to visceral distension between healthy volunteers and functional gastrointestinal disorder patients will be highlighted.