The role of serotonin in irritable bowel syndrome: implications for management

Curr Gastroenterol Rep. 2008 Aug;10(4):363-8. doi: 10.1007/s11894-008-0070-3.


Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a poorly understood, common, chronic condition characterized by -abdominal discomfort associated with altered bowel habits in the absence of structural or biochemical abnormalities. Despite the significant economic and personal burden associated with IBS, treatment options remain limited. Serotonin is recognized as a key neurotransmitter in intestinal secretory, sensory, and motor function. Although the pathophysiology of IBS is incompletely understood, there is evidence that abnormalities in brain-gut signaling and serotonin metabolism play a role. This article reviews the evidence that serotonin, one of the better-understood neurotransmitters with respect to its role in human central and intestinal physiology, plays a role in IBS. Serotonin signaling is discussed, with a focus on receptor subtypes and the therapeutic agents that target these receptors. Evidence that IBS is associated with perturbations in serotonin metabolism at various steps in the signaling pathway is also addressed, along with the limitations on alteration in serotonin metabolism as the sole explanation for the constellation of symptoms observed in patients with IBS.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antidepressive Agents, Tricyclic / therapeutic use
  • Enteric Nervous System / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / drug therapy
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / physiopathology*
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / psychology
  • Receptors, Serotonin / physiology
  • Receptors, Serotonin, 5-HT3 / physiology
  • Receptors, Serotonin, 5-HT4 / physiology
  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Serotonin / physiology*
  • Serotonin Antagonists / therapeutic use


  • Antidepressive Agents, Tricyclic
  • Receptors, Serotonin
  • Receptors, Serotonin, 5-HT3
  • Serotonin Antagonists
  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors
  • Receptors, Serotonin, 5-HT4
  • Serotonin