Background Brain-imaging literature of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) suggests an abnormal brain–gut communication. We analyzed the literature to evaluate and compare the aspects of brain activity in individuals with IBS and control subjects experiencing controlled rectal stimulation.
Methods PubMed was searched until September 2010. Data from 16 articles reporting brain activity during rectal balloon distensions in IBS compared to control groups was analyzed. Prevalence rates and pairwise activations were assessed using binomial distributions for 11 selected regions of interest. The data were aggregated to adjust for center effect.
Key Results There was considerable variability in the literature regarding regions and their activity patterns in controls and individuals with IBS. There was no significant difference found in the thalamus, anterior cingulate cortex, posterior cingulate cortex, and prefrontal cortex, however, results show limited evidence of consensus for the anterior insula (AI) (P = 0.22). Pairwise activity results suggest that pairs involving the AI tend to have more consistent activity together than pairs which do not involve the AI (posterior insula and AI, P = 0.08; posterior cingulate cortex and AI, P = 0.16), however, no pairwise evaluation reached significance.
Conclusions & Inferences Our pooled analysis demonstrates that the literature reports are quite heterogeneous but there is some evidence that there may be patterns of higher activity more common in individuals with IBS than in controls. A consensus, though, regarding study designs, analysis approach and reporting could create a clearer understanding of brain involvement in IBS pathophysiology.