From experience, most people know about a link between psychological processes and gastrointestinal sensory and motor functions. Cognitive processes (e.g., attention) as well as affective processes (e.g., fear) play a role in gastrointestinal sensations in healthy controls and patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) alike. However, the exact nature of this relationship has not been completely understood yet. Brain imaging techniques allow for the study of brain-gut interactions in vivo. Accordingly, positron emission tomography (PET) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) have been widely used to study neural mechanisms underlying visceral sensations. This article will summarize the results of functional brain imaging studies in healthy controls and selected studies assessing the influence of psychological processes on gastrointestinal functions. Subsequently, this article will deal with those brain areas activated by visceral stimulation in IBS patients. Special attention will be paid to recently published studies concerning psychological factors and novel research questions. © 2008 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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