Institute of Medical Psychology and Behavioral Immunobiology
+49 201 723 4501

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Stress and negative emotions in acute and chronic visceral pain

Although stress and negative emotions such as anxiety or fear have been shown to influence the perception and evaluation of painful stimuli, the neurobiological and specific psychological mechanisms remain incompletely understood, especially in the context of visceral pain. Therefore, we strive to elucidate the role of negative mood and emotions on different aspects of pain perception and processing. In this line of research, we use different approaches to study psychological stress or stress mediators, including experimental stress models or administration of the stress hormone cortisol. We specifically aim to elucidate differences between men and women at the neural, behavioral or biological levels and to test the specificity to pain modality by comparing visceral and somatic pain stimuli. Together, these findings will help to clarify the importance of stress and neuroendocrine mediators of the stress systems in the pathophysiology of acute and chronic pain, and may contribute to refining existing treatments for clinical conditions associated with chronic stress or affective disorders, pain and somatization.

Principle investigator

Elsenbruch Sigrid

Research team

Benson Sven, Clinic of Neurology
Engler Harald
Koenen Laura Ricarda


Prof. Dr. U. Bingel, Neurology, Essen University Hospital
Prof. Dr. M. Forsting, Diagnostic and Interventional Radiology and Neuroradiology, Essen University Hospital
Prof. P. Enck, Psychosomatic Medicine, University Tübingen


German Research Foundation (DFG):
EL 236/5-2 “Altered visceral and psychological stress signal processing in visceral hyperalgesia: Role of central pain processing and local inflammation in the gut.”
EL 236/8-2 “Modulation of visceral pain processing: Effects of emotional context on pain responses in healthy volunteers.”

Selected publications

Lacourt TE, Houtveen JH, Doornen LJ, Benson S, Grigoleit JS, Cesko E, Elsenbruch S.
Biological and psychological predictors of visceral pain sensitivity in healthy premenopausal women.
Eur J Pain 2014;18(4):567-74.

Rosenberger C, Thürling M, Forsting M, Elsenbruch S, Timmann D, Gizewski ER.
Contributions of the cerebellum to disturbed central processing of visceral stimuli in irritable bowel syndrome.
Cerebellum 2013;12(2):194-8.

Elsenbruch S, Rosenberger C, Enck P, Forsting M, Schedlowski M, Gizewski ER.
Affective disturbances modulate the neural processing of visceral pain stimuli in irritable bowel syndrome: an fMRI study.
Gut 2010 Apr;59(4):489-95.

Elsenbruch S, Rosenberger C, Bingel U, Forsting M, Schedlowski M. Gizewski ER.
Altered emotional modulation of the neural response to visceral stimuli in irritable bowel syndrome.
Gastroenterology 2010 Oct;139(4):1310-9.