Intestinal Disorders in Humans and Animals Can Be Profoundly Impacted by Early Life Stress

Images of ileal intestinal mucosa of ETEC-challenged early weaned pigs (16 d weaning age; Panel C) and late-weaned (20 d weaning age; Panel D). Mast cells in early weaned intestine are fully granulated and stain metachromatically (purple), whereas mast cells in late weaning intestine are degranulated indicated by loss of granularity and free purple granules in the surrounding tissue.
Images of ileal intestinal mucosa of ETEC-challenged early weaned pigs (16 d weaning age; Panel C) and late-weaned (20 d weaning age; Panel D). Mast cells in early weaned intestine are fully granulated and stain metachromatically (purple), whereas mast cells in late weaning intestine are degranulated indicated by loss of granularity and free purple granules in the surrounding tissue.

Dr. Adam Moeser, Associate Professor of Gastrointestinal Physiology at North Carolina State University, College of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Moeser’s research program investigates how stress negatively influences intestinal health in humans and animals and how this predisposes them to disease. His recent paper, titled Early Weaning Stress in Pigs Impairs Innate Mucosal Immune Responses to Enterotoxigenic E. coli Challenge and Exacerbates Intestinal Injury and Clinical Disease was published in the journal PloS one.

Background of the study

Working with animals over several years, I realized the negative impact of stress on disease. I also found it interesting how similar this was to human diseases such as IBS and IBD.
The clinical onset and severity of intestinal disorders in humans and animals can be profoundly impacted by early life stress. In this study, we investigated the impact of early weaning stress in pigs on intestinal physiology, clinical disease, and immune response to subsequent challenge with enterotoxigenic F18 E. coli

Primary Findings

Our research demonstrates that stress in early life can induced permanent changes in intestinal health which can impact how animals response to infections in later life. Specifically, we have shown that early life stress leads to long term changes in the intestinal immune system. This in turn impairs the ability of animals to defend/protect themselves against intestinal infections resulting in more severe disease.

Implications

Given the link between early life stress and gastrointestinal diseases of animals and humans, a more fundamental understanding of the mechanisms by which early life stress impacts subsequent pathophysiologic intestinal responses has implications for the prevention and management of important GI disorders in humans and animals. Taken one step further, these findings suggest that alleviating/protecting animals from stressors in early life will positively impact long-term health.

About the Gastrointestinal Physiology Laboratory

The objective of this laboratory is to study basic mechanisms of stress-induced intestinal dysfunction. Stress is an important contributing factor to enteric disorders of veterinary species and humans however, the mechanisms are poorly understood. To date, our work has focused on the role of mucosal mast cells in psychological stress-induced disturbances in intestinal mucosal barrier function. We believe that this work will have important implications in the understanding of stress-related gut disorders such as infectious diarrhea, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and will facilitate the design of novel preventative and treatment strategies for veterinary and human patients suffering from these disorders.