Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a highly prevalent intestinal disorder characterized by chronically recurring abdominal pain and altered bowel habit. Despite extensive research efforts over the past few decades, there is no general consensus about the pathophysiology, the role of SABV in pathophysiology, nor are there been any reliable biomarkers for guiding treatment decisions. This lack of progress is reflected in the continued excessive direct and indirect health care costs generated by these conditions, largely due to unnecessary diagnostic procedures and lack of effective therapies. Increasing evidence supports a role of dysregulations within the brain-gut microbiome (BGM) axis in IBS. Therefore, the overall goal of this proposal is to determine the sex-specific role of distinct brainstem nuclei and their bidirectional interactions with several brain networks, of the gut, and of gut microbial metabolites and female sex hormones in symptom generation in IBS. To address this goal we will first characterize sex-specific functional and structural changes in the brain and brainstem using multimodal MRI (structural, DTI, functional MRI) in IBS patients and healthy control subjects (HCs). We will use machine learning and neural network approaches to identify a CNS signature from the imaging data for IBS by leveraging both the newly enrolled IBS subjects and our large existing database of functional and structural MRI scans in IBS and HCs. We will identify sex differences in cross sectional associations between functional and structural imaging measurements, gut microbial measures (RNA sequencing, shotgun metagenomics, metabolomics) and behavioral characteristics of IBS patients, with an emphasis on estrogen and tryptophan metabolites and short chain fatty acids. The information garnered from this study is expected to identify biologically based male and female patient subgroups, to reveal novel insights into the involvement of BGM interactions in IBS pathophysiology, in particular about the involvement of the brainstem and gut microbial metabolites, and to aid in the development of more effective treatment strategies in IBS.
Even though IBS is now considered a brain gut disorder, the underlying biological mechanisms, and the role of sex related differences are incompletely understood. We propose to study sex related differences in the structure and function of brain networks that are relevant for IBS, and characterize the modulation of these networks but gut microbial metabolites and estrogen. The results from the proposed studies are likely to identify novel targets for IBS drug development with particular relevance for female patients.