Chronic IBS pain identified as 'gut itch'
Millions of people suffering from chronic gut pain associated with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) will be pleased to hear that progress has been made in improving our understanding of the mechanisms of IBS, which could lead to the development of effective treatments.
Flinders University researchers at the South Australian Health & Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) have discovered that receptors that cause irritated, itchy skin also exist in the human gut. These receptors activate neurons, which cause IBS patients to experience chronic gut pain or a seriously painful ‘gut itch’. The research findings suggest that these ‘itch’ receptors may be more abundant in IBS patients than in healthy individuals. The presence of more receptors means that more neurons are activated, causing the feeling of more pain.
Professor Stuart Brierley, National Health and Medical Research Council and Matthew Flinders Research Fellow in Gastrointestinal Neuroscience said these gut itch receptors could offer a new way of targeting the underlying cause of gut pain rather than using traditional drugs, such as opioids.
“We found receptors which bring about an itchy feeling on skin also do the same in the gut, so these patients are essentially suffering from a ‘gut itch’. We’ve translated these results to human tissue tests and now hope to help create a treatment where people can take an oral medication for IBS,” he said.
Professor Brierley, also the Director of the Visceral Pain Research Group at SAHMRI, said the pain experienced by IBS sufferers takes place when itch receptors are coupled with what’s known as the ‘wasabi receptor’ in the nervous system, which normally helps people react to consuming the Japanese condiment wasabi.
“Having shown these mechanisms contribute to chronic gut pain, we can now work out ways to block these receptors and thereby stop the ‘gut itch’ signal travelling from the gut to the brain. This will be a far better solution than the problems currently presented by opioid treatments. ”
The study results are published in JCI Insight.
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