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Objectives

Impaired intestinal barrier function has been demonstrated in the pathophysiology of diarrhea-predominant irritable bowel syndrome (IBS-D). This study aimed to describe the intestinal ultrastructural findings in the intestinal mucosal layer of IBS-D patients.

Methods

In total, 10 healthy controls and 10 IBS-D patients were analyzed in this study. The mucosa of each patient’s rectosigmoid colon was first assessed by confocal laser endomicroscopy (CLE); next, biopsied specimens of these sites were obtained. Intestinal tissues of IBS-D patients and healthy volunteers were examined to observe cellular changes by transmission electron microscopy (TEM).

Results

CLE showed no visible epithelial damage or inflammatory changes in the colonic mucosa of IBS-D compared with healthy volunteers. On transmission electron microscopic examination, patients with IBS-D displayed a larger apical intercellular distance with a higher proportion of dilated (>20 nm) intercellular junctional complexes, which was indicative of impaired mucosal integrity. In addition, microvillus exfoliation, extracellular vesicle as well as increased presence of multivesicular bodies were visible in IBS-D patients. Single epithelial cells appeared necrotic, as characterized by cytoplasmic vacuolization, cytoplasmic swelling, and presence of autolysosome. A significant association between bowel habit, frequency of abdominal pain, and enlarged intercellular distance was found.

Conclusion

This study showed ultrastructural alterations in the architecture of intestinal epithelial cells and intercellular junctional complexes in IBS-D patients, potentially representing a pathophysiological mechanism in IBS-D.

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