Mental health profoundly impacts inflammatory diseases of the body. This is particularly apparent in Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), where stressful events in a patient’s life often enhance the severity of subsequent disease flares. Psychological stress is also strongly linked to bowel motility problems in IBD patients. How the state of the brain influences inflammation in the gut is a fascinating question that remains poorly understood.
In this study, we will explore the mechanisms of brain-gut communication that link psychological stress to IBD severity. Using several different mouse models of IBD, we have recently discovered a pathway that links stress perception by the brain to the enteric nervous system (ENS), and in particular glia cells that reside in the gastrointestinal tract. We will explore how this neuronal brain-gut connection exacerbates the inflammatory state in the gut. We will also determine whether the same pathway is active in IBD patients in the context of stressful life events.
Collectively, this work will improve our understanding of how the brain and the gut communicate during psychological stress. We hope that an improved understanding of how stress influences intestinal inflammation will ultimately facilitate harnessing the power of brain-derived signals in the treatment of IBD.