Serotoninergic neuroenteric modulators

Lancet. 2001 Dec 15;358(9298):2061-8. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(01)07103-3.


Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is common and can be disabling. Several drugs that modulate serotonin (5HT) and other neurotransmitters in the gut (neuroenteric modulators) have either become available or are in development, but progress has been slowed by toxicity. Blockade of 5HT(3) receptors slows colonic transit, increases fluid absorption and increases left colon compliance. Alosetron, a potent 5HT(3) receptor antagonist, has, in women but not in men, a clinically significant but modest therapeutic gain over placebo in the relief of abdominal pain and discomfort and bowel-habit disturbance (but not bloating) in diarrhoea-predominant IBS. However, the drug unexpectedly was associated with ischaemic colitis and, very rarely, severe constipation-induced complications, and alosetron has been withdrawn. Cilansetron may have similar efficacy in men and women. 5HT(4) receptor stimulation results in accelerated colonic transit, and tegaserod, a partial 5HT(4) receptor agonist, has modest but clinically significant advantage over placebo in constipation-predominant IBS; the benefit seems to be confined to females. Long-term published data are lacking and safety concerns have been raised. Prucalopride, a full 5HT(4) agonist that has been promising in idiopathic chronic constipation, may also be limited by toxicity. Other 5HT receptor antagonists and agonists are under development for IBS. However, for modulators of single receptors to achieve a substantial therapeutic gain, and to do so safely, drug targets based on the pathophysiology of IBS need to be better defined.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Benzofurans / pharmacokinetics
  • Benzofurans / therapeutic use
  • Carbolines / adverse effects
  • Carbolines / pharmacokinetics
  • Carbolines / therapeutic use
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Colonic Diseases, Functional* / drug therapy
  • Colonic Diseases, Functional* / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Indoles / pharmacokinetics
  • Indoles / therapeutic use
  • Male
  • Serotonin Antagonists / pharmacokinetics
  • Serotonin Antagonists / therapeutic use*
  • Serotonin Receptor Agonists / pharmacokinetics
  • Serotonin Receptor Agonists / therapeutic use*


  • Benzofurans
  • Carbolines
  • Indoles
  • Serotonin Antagonists
  • Serotonin Receptor Agonists
  • prucalopride
  • alosetron
  • tegaserod