The pathogenesis and pathophysiology of irritable bowel syndrome is complex and still incompletely known. Potential pathogenetic factors include genes, infectious events, psychological symptoms and other loosely defined environmental factors. Both alterations at the central and peripheral level are thought to contribute to the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, including psychosocial factors, abnormal gastrointestinal motility and secretion, and visceral hypersensitivity. Today irritable bowel syndrome is viewed upon as a disorder of dysregulation of the so-called brain-gut axis, involving abnormal function in the enteric, autonomic and/or central nervous systems, with peripheral abnormalities probably dominating in some patients and disturbed central processing of signals from the periphery in others. Lines of evidence also suggest that inflammation within the gastrointestinal tract may be of great importance in at least subgroups of irritable bowel syndrome patients. To conclude, a complex picture of the pathogenesis and pathophysiology of irritable bowel syndrome is emerging, with interactions between several different alterations resulting in the divergent symptom pattern in these patients.