The effects of gastrointestinal symptoms on structural grey matter volume in youth

Atiqa F. Pirwani, Zhuo Fang, Bo Li, Andra Smith, Georg Northoff, Nafissa Ismail

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Previous neuroimaging studies have examined the association between changes in brain structure and gastrointestinal symptoms (GIS), seen in disorders such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Irritable Bowel Disease. Studies in adults have found changes in white and grey matter volume (GMV) in patients with various gastrointestinal disorders. However, it is unclear whether GIS-related structural changes in the brain are limited to adults or could be present throughout the lifespan. Given that gastrointestinal disorders are typically diagnosed between 4 and 18 years old, we investigated GIS-induced morphological changes in pre-adolescents (8–10), adolescents (12–16 years) and young adults (17–21 years). Using a voxel-based morphometry (VBM) analysis, we compared regional grey matter volume (GMV) between participants with GIS and controls, using structural brain images from the Philadelphia Neurodevelopmental Cohort (PNC) database. A total of 211 participants (107 participants with GISs and 104 control participants) who had undergone structural magnetic resonance imaging were analysed. VBM analysis was used to objectively analyse GMV across the whole brain and compare between participants with GIS and controls. Participants experiencing GIS showed smaller GMV in regions within the limbic system/basal ganglia (bilateral caudate, bilateral ventral hippocampus, bilateral amygdala and bilateral superior orbital frontal cortex), and larger GMV in regions within the pain-matrix (thalamus, bilateral putamen, right mid-frontal gyrus) compared to controls. These differences were most prominent in the adolescent and young adult groups compared to pre-adolescents. In conclusion, the structural differences found in participants with GIS support the need for further research into the neurophysiological impact of these symptoms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)477-488
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of Developmental Neuroscience
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Oct 1 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • adolescence
  • fMRI
  • gastrointestinal disorders
  • gut-brain axis
  • neuroimaging
  • voxel-based morphometry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Developmental Biology


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