A disturbance of the brain-gut axis is a prominent feature in functional bowel disorders (such as irritable bowel syndrome and functional dyspepsia) and psychological abnormalities are often implicated in their pathogenesis. We hypothesized that psychological morbidity in these conditions may result from gastrointestinal problems, rather than causing them.
Functional dyspepsia was induced by neonatal gastric irritation in male rats. 10-day old male Sprague-Dawley rats received 0.1% iodoacetamide (IA) or vehicle by oral gavage for 6 days. At 8–10 weeks of age, rats were tested with sucrose preference and forced-swimming tests to examine depression-like behavior. Elevated plus maze, open field and light-dark box tests were used to test anxiety-like behaviors. ACTH and corticosterone responses to a minor stressor, saline injection, and hypothalamic CRF expression were also measured.
Behavioral tests revealed changes of anxiety- and depression-like behaviors in IA-treated, but not control rats. As compared with controls, hypothalamic and amygdaloid CRF immunoreactivity, basal levels of plasma corticosterone and stress-induced ACTH were significantly higher in IA-treated rats. Gastric sensory ablation with resiniferatoxin had no effect on behaviors but treatment with CRF type 1 receptor antagonist, antalarmin, reversed the depression-like behavior in IA-treated rats
The present results suggest that transient gastric irritation in the neonatal period can induce a long lasting increase in depression- and anxiety-like behaviors, increased expression of CRF in the hypothalamus, and an increased sensitivity of HPA axis to stress. The depression-like behavior may be mediated by the CRF1 receptor. These findings have significant implications for the pathogenesis of psychological co-morbidity in patients with functional bowel disorders.