Interrogating the Gut-Brain Axis in the Context of Inflammatory Bowel Disease: A Translational Approach

Collins SM1. Inflamm Bowel Dis. 2020 Jan 22. pii: izaa004. doi: 10.1093/ibd/izaa004. [Epub ahead of print]


Author information

Farncombe Family Digestive Health Research Institute, Department of Medicine, Division of Gastroenterology, Faculty of Health Sciences, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.


This review examines preclinical and clinical studies relevant to our understanding of how the bidirectional gut-brain axis influences the natural history of inflammatory bowel disease. Preclinical studies provide proof of concept that preexisting behavioral illness, such as depression, results in increased susceptibility to inflammatory stimuli and that commonly used classes of antidepressants protect against this vulnerability. However, clinical studies suggesting behavioral illness as a risk factor for IBD and a protective role for antidepressants have relied primarily on symptom-reporting rather than objective measurements of inflammation. In terms of gut-to-brain signaling, there is emerging evidence from preclinical and clinical observation that intestinal inflammation alters brain functions, including the induction of mood disorders, alteration of circadian rhythm both centrally and peripherally, and changes in appetitive behaviors. Furthermore, preclinical studies suggest that effective treatment of intestinal inflammation improves associated behavioral impairment. Taken together, the findings of this review encourage a holistic approach to the management of patients with IBD, accommodating lifestyle issues that include the avoidance of sleep deprivation, optimized nutrition, and the monitoring and appropriate management of behavioral disorders. The review also acknowledges the need for better-designed clinical studies evaluating the impact of behavioral disorders and their treatments on the natural history of IBD, utilizing hard end points to assess changes in the inflammatory process as opposed to reliance on symptom-based assessments. The findings of the review also encourage a better understanding of changes in brain function and circadian rhythm induced by intestinal inflammation.

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