Background & aims: The 5-HT3 receptor (5-HT3R) antagonist Alosetron (Alos) reduces the symptoms of female patients with diarrhea-predominant irritable bowel syndrome (IBS); yet, the mechanism(s) underlying this effect remains incompletely understood. We determined the effect of Alos on regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) in the absence and presence of rectal or sigmoid stimulation to evaluate 2 hypothesized mechanisms of therapeutic action: peripheral antinociception and inhibition of emotional motor system (EMS) regions in the brain.
Methods: Forty-nine nonconstipated irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) patients (26 female) received H(2)(15)O positron emission tomography (PET) brain scans before a randomized, placebo-controlled, 3-week trial with Alos (1-4 mg twice daily). PET scans were repeated after treatment in 37 completers. We assessed rCBF during baseline, rectal distention, and anticipation of undelivered rectal distention. The 3 conditions were repeated after a series of noxious sigmoid distentions. Rectal (45 mm Hg) and sigmoid (60 mm Hg) distentions were performed with a computer-controlled barostat device.
Results: Alos treatment, as compared with placebo, improved IBS symptoms and reduced rCBF in 5-HT3R containing regions of the EMS, but not in areas activated by pain. Reduction of rCBF appeared greatest in the absence of visceral stimulation, and was partially reversed by rectal or sigmoid distention. Symptom improvement across sessions was significantly correlated with rCBF decreases in the 5-HT3R-rich amygdala, ventral striatum, and dorsal pons.
Conclusions: Reduction in IBS symptoms correlated with a drug-induced reduction in the activity of central autonomic networks mediating emotional expression that was maximal in the absence of nociceptive input.