Psychoneuroimmunological approach to gastrointestinal related pain
Scand J Pain
Background and purpose (aims): Psychoneuroimmunology is both a theoretical and practical field of medicine in which human biology and psychology are considered an interconnected unity. Through such a framework it is possible to elucidate complex syndromes in gastrointestinal related pain, particularly chronic non-malignant. The aim is to provide insight into pathophysiological mechanisms and suggest treatment modalities according to a comprehensive paradigm. The article also presents novel findings that may guide clinicians to recognize new targets or scientists to find new research topics.
Methods: A literature search of 'PubMed' and 'Google Scholar' databases was performed. Search terms included: 'Visceral pain', 'Psychoneuroimmunology', 'Psychoneuroimmunology and pain', 'Pain in GI system', 'GI related pain', 'Pain and microbiota', 'Enteric nervous system', 'Enteric nervous system and inflammation', 'CNS and pain', 'Inflammation and pain in GI tract', 'Neurogastroenterology', 'Neuroendocrinology', 'Immune system in GI pain'. After searching and reading sources deemed recent and relevant, a narrative review was written with a tendency to discriminate the peripheral, intermediate, and central pathophysiological mechanisms or treatment targets.
Results: Recent evidence point out the importance of considering the brain-gut axis as the main connector of the central and peripheral phenomena encountered in patients suffering from chronic non-malignant gastrointestinal related pain. This axis is also a prime clinical target with multiple components to be addressed in order for therapy to be more effective. Patients suffering from inflammatory bowel disease or functional gastrointestinal disorders represent groups that could benefit most from the proposed approach.
Conclusions (based on our findings): Rather than proceeding with established allopathic single-target central or peripheral treatments, by non-invasively modulating the brain-gut axis components such as the psychological and neuroendocrinological status, microbiota, enteric nervous system, or immune cells (e.g. glial or mast cells), a favourable clinical outcome in various chronic gastrointestinal related pain syndromes may be achieved. Clinical tools are readily available in forms of psychotherapy, prebiotics, probiotics, nutritional advice, and off-label drugs. An example of the latter is low-dose naltrexone, a compound which opens the perspective of targeting glial cells to reduce neuroinflammation and ultimately pain.
Implications (our opinion on what our findings mean): Current findings from basic science provide sound mechanistic evidence and once entering clinical practice should yield more effective outcomes for patients. In addition to well-established pharmacotherapy comprised notably of anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, and proton-pump inhibitors, valid treatment strategies may contain other options. These disease modulating add-ons include probiotics, prebiotics, food supplements with anti-inflammatory properties, various forms of psychotherapy, and low-dose naltrexone as a glial modulator that attenuates neuroinflammation. Clearly, a broader and still under exploited set of evidence-based tools is available for clinical use.
Keywords: Functional gastrointestinal disorders; Inflammatory bowel disease; Microbiota; Pain; Psychoneuroimmunology.