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Differences in Brain Structure Seen in Females With IBS

Last Updated: July 29, 2010.

Females with irritable bowel syndrome have structural gray matter brain alterations in areas involved in evaluative and cognitive functions, according to research published in the July issue of Gastroenterology.

THURSDAY, July 29 (HealthDay News) -- Females with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) have structural gray matter brain alterations in areas involved in evaluative and cognitive functions, according to research published in the July issue of Gastroenterology.

David A. Seminowicz, Ph.D., of McGill University in Montreal, and colleagues used magnetic resonance imaging-based techniques, voxel-based morphometry, and cortical thickness analysis on a large well-screened group of 55 IBS patients and 48 controls, all females, to examine anatomical brain differences between the groups. The purpose of the study was to assess for structural brain changes associated with chronic pain, a finding previously reported in studies with small, heterogeneous sample groups.

The researchers found that IBS was associated with decreased gray matter density in many areas of the brain; when controlled for anxiety and depression, significant differences remained in the prefrontal and posterior parietal cortices, which represent evaluative and cognitive functions in the brain. There were no gray matter density differences based on the duration or severity of IBS.

"The findings in this large sample of female IBS patients with moderate symptom severity suggest that morphometric alterations occur primarily in brain networks concerned with attention and emotion modulation, as well as in cortio-limbic pontine pain modulatory systems, and to a smaller degree in networks processing interoceptive information. This is in contrast to the majority of studies reported from patients with somatic pain syndromes, where pain is constant, and associated with persistently enhanced nociceptive signaling to the brain," the authors write.

A co-author disclosed financial ties to Avera Pharmaceuticals and GlaxoSmithKline.

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