Chronic gastrointestinal disorders such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) have been linked to high stress levels early in life. A North Carolina State University researcher is leading a study that looks at how these early stress events may change the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, leading to increased susceptibility to these diseases later in life.
Adam Moeser, associate professor of gastrointestinal biology, has received a five-year, $1.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to look at physiological changes in the GI tracts of pigs that have undergone early life stress. Pigs are a natural model for the study because they suffer the same GI diseases as humans and have similar stress responses.
Moeser and NC State co-investigator Anthony Blikslager, a professor of surgery and gastroenterology, will examine the relationship between the immune system, an overactive cholinergic nervous system – which regulates digestive secretions and gut motility – and increased gut permeability. Increased permeability is a major factor in many chronic GI diseases.
“High stress events early in life essentially ‘rewire’ the gastrointestinal tract so that it stays in stress response mode,” Moeser says. “This leads to increased susceptibility to GI disorders. If we can understand how this rewiring affects cellular interactions within the gut, we will be able to better treat humans and animals affected by these diseases.”