The neuronal 5-HT3 receptor network after 20 years of research--evolving concepts in management of pain and inflammation

Eur J Pharmacol. 2007 Mar 29;560(1):1-8. doi: 10.1016/j.ejphar.2007.01.028. Epub 2007 Jan 30.


The 5-HT3 receptor is a pentameric ligand-gated cation channel which is found in the central and peripheral nervous system and on extraneuronal locations like lymphocytes, monocytes and fetal tissue. Five monomer subtypes, the 5-HT(3A-E) subunits, have been identified which show differences in the amino-terminal and the transmembrane region. The functional relevance of different receptor compositions is not yet clarified. 5-HT3 receptors are located predominantly in CNS regions that are involved in the integration of the vomiting reflex, pain processing, the reward system and anxiety control. The preferential localization on nerve endings is consistent with a physiological role of 5-HT3 receptors in the control of neurotransmitter release such as dopamine, cholecystokinin, glutamate, acetylcholine, GABA, substance P, or serotonin itself. 5-HT3-receptor agonists cause unpleasant effects like nausea and anxiety, and no clinical use has been considered. In contrast, the introduction of 5-HT3-receptor antagonists for chemotherapy-induced vomiting was extremely successful. After development of other gastrointestinal indications like postoperative vomiting and diarrhea-predominant irritable bowel syndrome recent research focuses on rheumatological indications such as fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis and tendinopathies. Positive effects have also been observed for pain syndromes such as chronic neuropathic pain and migraine. These effects seem to be related to substance P-mediated inflammation and hyperalgesia. Furthermore, antiinflammatory and immunomodulatory properties have been observed for 5-HT3-receptor antagonists which might explain promising findings in systemic sclerosis and other immunological conditions. For all of these innovative indications the optimal dosing schedule is a crucial issue, since a bell-shaped dose-response curve has been observed repeatedly for 5-HT3-receptor antagonists, particularly in CNS effects.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cognition / physiology
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / drug therapy*
  • Inflammation / physiopathology
  • Mental Disorders / drug therapy
  • Mental Disorders / physiopathology
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / physiology
  • Pain / drug therapy*
  • Pain / physiopathology
  • Receptors, Serotonin, 5-HT3 / physiology*
  • Schizophrenia / drug therapy
  • Schizophrenia / physiopathology
  • Serotonin 5-HT3 Receptor Antagonists*
  • Serotonin Antagonists / administration & dosage
  • Serotonin Antagonists / pharmacology*


  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • Receptors, Serotonin, 5-HT3
  • Serotonin 5-HT3 Receptor Antagonists
  • Serotonin Antagonists