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The Brain-Gut Connection

IBS is now generally viewed as a disorder of the brain-gut axis. The brain-gut axis describes the communication between the brain (central nervous system) and the digestive tract. The digestive tract contains a large number of nerve cells (more than any other organ except the brain) and is therefore sometimes referred to as the 'little brain' (also called the enteric nervous system, ENS) and shares many important connections with the 'big brain'. This is called the brain-gut axis and its normal function is to regulate digestion and the movement of food without the need for you to be aware of it. Unfortunately sometimes the signals become scrambled or misinterpreted, contributing to symptoms such as those of IBS.

The brain-gut axis links emotional and cognitive centres of the brain with peripheral functioning of the GI tract. The digestive tract and the brain develop from closely related parts of the embryo, and as a result they communicate extensively via nerves such as the Vagus nerve, and share similar nerve endings and chemicals that relay signals and messages (neurotransmitters). This is how stress, thought, emotion, and psychological problems can affect gut sensation, feeling, motility, and secretion, and sensations arising in the gut can affect the central brain leading to pain or to changes in mood or behaviour.

Normal GI function is characterised by a high degree of coordination between the gut and brain. However, in IBS patients, there is a disruption in this interaction of the brain-gut axis. This often results in abnormal gut motility and visceral hypersensitivity. Digestive symptoms seem to be related to both abnormal reception by the brain of the signals from the gut, as well as to an increased responsiveness in the brain and in the gut.


If you are interested in other gastrointestinal-focused information and intervention websites developed and hosted at
Swinburne University of Technology,
please go to:

IBDclinic.org.au for individuals with Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Gastroparesisclinic.org for individuals with Gastroparesis


This website and its content is not intended or recommended as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek advice of your own physician or other qualified health care professional regarding any medical questions or conditions.

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