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Stress Induces Changes in Esophageal Mucosa in Rats

Stress-related increases in permeability may explain influence of stress on heartburn in humans

WEDNESDAY, Sept. 26 (HealthDay News) -- Acute stress in rats increases esophageal permeability and widens intercellular spaces, researchers report in a study published in the September issue of Gut. By allowing greater exposure of sensory nerve endings to refluxed gastric contents, this stress-induced permeability may help explain the link between stress and heartburn symptoms in humans.

Ricard Farre, of Catholic University in Leuven, Belgium, and colleagues induced stress in rats by using partial restraints and measured subsequent esophageal mucosal permeability. Electron microscopy was used to measure intercellular space diameter.

Stressed rats had increased fecal output, esophageal mucosa permeability and mean blood sugar levels compared to control rats. Stress alone was associated with an increase in permeability of esophageal mucosa to the smallest molecule. Exposure of the esophageal mucosa to acid-pepsin further increased the mucosal permeability of stressed rats, but not of control rats. Electron microscopy revealed dilated intercellular spaces in the mucosa from stressed, but not control rats.

This study "shows that acute stress can, by itself, enlarge esophageal mucosa intercellular spaces and increase its permeability. Stress can potentiate the effect of acid-pepsin on the esophageal mucosa by further increasing the permeability. This mechanism might contribute to stress influences on heartburn symptoms in humans," the authors conclude.

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