The influence of stress on the clinical course of a number of intestinal diseases is increasingly being recognized, but the underlying mechanisms are largely unknown. This themes article focuses on recent findings related to the effects of stress on mucosal barrier function in the small intestine and colon. Experiments using animal models demonstrate that various types of psychological and physical stress induce dysfunction of the intestinal barrier, resulting in enhanced uptake of potentially noxious material (e.g., antigens, toxins, and other proinflammatory molecules) from the gut lumen. Evidence from several studies indicates that in this process, mucosal mast cells play an important role, possibly activated via neurons releasing corticotropin-releasing hormone and/or acetylcholine. Defining the role of specific cells and mediator molecules in stress-induced barrier dysfunction may provide clues to novel treatments for intestinal disorders.