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August 21, 2018

‘Gut touch?’ Mayo Clinic researchers discover important trigger for serotonin release

By Advancing the Science contributor

Researchers at Mayo Clinic have discovered an important mechanical trigger in the gut for releasing serotonin in the body. Serotonin is an important hormone and neurotransmitter in the human body, believed to help regulate digestion, appetite, mood, social behavior, sleep and other important functions. The researchers’ findings were published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science.

“In the gut, a special epithelial cell, called enterochromaffin, produces nearly all of the serotonin in our body,” explains Arthur Beyder, M.D., Ph.D., a gastroenterologist and biomedical engineer at Mayo Clinic. Dr. Beyder says a 60-year-old landmark study showed that mechanical forces in the gut, such as those present during digestion, serve as a trigger for serotonin release. However, the exact mechanism for how that release took place was unclear. “Because serotonin released by the enterochromaffin cells has many important functions in the body, we wanted to better understand how these cells work.”

In their research, Dr. Beyder and his colleagues discovered that a mechanosensor, called Piezo2, was specific to enterochromaffin cells. A mechanosensor is a molecule that responds to changes in mechanical force and leads to a physiologic response. “We found that a mechanosensitive ion channel called Piezo2 is in an important mechanosensor necessary for mechanical release of serotonin from the enterochromaffin cell,” says Dr. Beyder.

“We know that serotonin produced by the enterochromaffin cell is important for many local functions in the gut and the body and that serotonin signaling is disrupted in many human diseases, so we want to understand how the enterochromaffin cell works, and how it may be broken in human diseases,” says Dr. Beyder. “This knowledge could one day lead to completely novel approaches to diagnose and treat human diseases.”

For example, “serotonin release is disrupted in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), so many drugs effective in IBS treatment target serotonin receptors. Unfortunately, since serotonin receptors are widespread in the human body, these drugs frequently cause significant side effects,” says Dr. Beyder, “so targeting serotonin release more precisely may lead to new treatments for IBS.”

Dr. Beyder and his colleagues were amazed to find that enterochromaffin cells have a specific mechanical trigger that is not present in the cells around them. They were also surprised to find how effective the blockade or elimination of this trigger is for serotonin release and for gut fluid secretion.

“Interestingly, the same mechanosensors used by enterochromaffin cells are also used by touch sensors in the skin, which like enterochromaffin cells, rely on serotonin for signaling,” says Dr. Beyder. “This makes us wonder whether there is such a thing as ‘gut touch’ and if so, what functions would ‘gut touch’ have?”

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Tags: Arthur Beyder, Findings, News

Fascinating. Have known IBS patients who hurt a lot when they walk or drive.

What might this mean to patients who have had gastric bypass surgery?

Editor’s Note: Thank you for reading Advancing the Science.

This is early stage research, not yet in humans, but we asked Dr. Beyder your question, and he responded:

"It depends on what kind of gastric bypass surgery. For patients with Roux-n-Y , studies have shown that the number of enteroendocrine cells in the gut is increased after surgery and their small bowel motility changes, and so this may mean that there is an increased amount of mechanosensitive hormone release. We know less about the other types of gastric bypass, such as gastric sleeve. However, our work is in animals, and we are just beginning to ask these questions in patients, so we still have a lot to learn about this system."

I suffer from uncontrollable IBS. This sounds interesting to follow

I wonder what the implications are, for people with neurological disorders. Such as OCD. I noticed my son when suffering from severe anxiety, will end up with IBS.

Editor’s Note: Hi Mary,

Thank you for reading Advancing the Science. If you have specific questions about your son, you will want to talk to his doctor about them. Here is some additional information about OCD: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/obsessive-compulsive-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20354432 and IBS: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/irritable-bowel-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20360016

@071951

I suffer from uncontrollable IBS. This sounds interesting to follow

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@71951 Do you have severe pain with mechanical movement of the gut – e.g. with Peristalsis, walking, bending at the waist, or going over bumps when you drive a car?

@piet79

Fascinating. Have known IBS patients who hurt a lot when they walk or drive.

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I can understand that eating makes us happy (possibly through this serotonin pathway?). But how is this pathway related to increased pain (which would be opposite of happiness)? We have SSRI and SNRI's prescribed in IBS and other functional GI disorders. So maybe there is a different pathway from this piezo molecule that induces pain?

Does this information imply that abdominal massage has been found to trigger the release of serotonin?

Editor’s Note: Thank you for reading Advancing the Science. As previously noted, this is early stage research, not yet in humans. However Dr. Beyder and his colleagues are referring to mechanical forces that occur in the body, such as during digestion.

I've suffered for so many years with stomach problems and IBS, mainly diahorrea. As soon as I took Prozac for debilitating anxiety and depression my stomach problems ceased. I've always wondered if my gut problems caused my anxiety. I'm taking Venlafaxine 150mg daily but still suffer anxiety and depression(albeit not as severe). This is really interesting to me. Would love to get off this medication but fear my anxiety will get completely out of control again.

@aprilb6

Does this information imply that abdominal massage has been found to trigger the release of serotonin?

Editor’s Note: Thank you for reading Advancing the Science. As previously noted, this is early stage research, not yet in humans. However Dr. Beyder and his colleagues are referring to mechanical forces that occur in the body, such as during digestion.

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I have asked several physicians, with no reply, how a colectomy might affect the Enteric Nervous System, Serotonin and microbiome. Would no longer having a colon affect serotonin production? Do you have any knowledge of other distruptions as well? Is there any way to counteract or manage these possible detriments? Thanks for your consideration.

Editor’s Note: Unfortunately, we cannot diagnose conditions, provide second opinions or make specific treatment recommendations through this blog. If you would like to seek help from Mayo Clinic, please call one of our appointment offices (Arizona: 800-446-2279, Florida: 904-953-0853, Minnesota: 507-538-3270) or request an appointment online: http://www.mayoclinic.org/appointments.

@mrsevans

I've suffered for so many years with stomach problems and IBS, mainly diahorrea. As soon as I took Prozac for debilitating anxiety and depression my stomach problems ceased. I've always wondered if my gut problems caused my anxiety. I'm taking Venlafaxine 150mg daily but still suffer anxiety and depression(albeit not as severe). This is really interesting to me. Would love to get off this medication but fear my anxiety will get completely out of control again.

Jump to this post

Maybe your gastric nerves have become hypersensitive to pain and that is why taking antidepressant may have helped reduce pain. I have also heard of use of Gabapentin. Also B2 for abdominal migraines. There is also the greater optical nerve block injection. Also hypnosis, meditation, stress reduction, massage and acupuncture may help? Should consult a pain management specialist.

I’m wondering if a peg tube could be cause of my gut issues now. Got it in 2014. For weight loss from. An illness. Did not have it long only about 8 weeks. Could not gain weight with it. Dr said just put water in it to keep open and eat food. If I started gaining weight he would take it out. . Was not helping me. Gave me issues. Just had weird sensation in my nerves when putting the liquid food in it. I’ve had pain issues with the scar tissue ever since but dr just say it’s normal. So could this interfere with serotonin. I’ve got motility issues now. Have to take miralax. Etc.

Editor’s Note: Unfortunately, we cannot diagnose conditions, provide second opinions or make specific treatment recommendations through this correspondence. If you would like to seek help from Mayo Clinic, please call one of our appointment offices (Arizona: 800-446-2279, Florida: 904-953-0853, Minnesota: 507-538-3270) or request an appointment online: http://www.mayoclinic.org/appointments.

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