New insights into visceral hypersensitivity--clinical implications in IBS

Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2011 Jun;8(6):349-55. doi: 10.1038/nrgastro.2011.83.


A subset of patients with IBS have visceral hypersensitivity and/or somatic hypersensitivity. Visceral hypersensitivity might have use as a clinical marker of IBS and could account for symptoms of urgency for bowel movements, bloating and abdominal pain. The mechanisms that lead to chronic visceral hypersensitivity in patients who have IBS are unclear. However, several working models may be considered, including: nociceptive input from the colon that leads to hypersensitivity; increased intestinal permeability that induces a visceral nociceptive drive; and alterations in the expression of microRNAs in gastrointestinal tissue that might be delivered via blood microvesicles to other target organs, such as the peripheral and/or central nervous system. As such, the chronic visceral hypersensitivity that is present in a subset of patients with IBS might be maintained by both peripheral and central phenomena. The theories underlying the development of chronic visceral hypersensitivity in patients with IBS are supported by findings from new animal models in which hypersensitivity follows transient inflammation of the colon. The presence of somatic hypersensitivity and an alteration in the neuroendocrine system in some patients who have IBS suggests that multisystemic factors are involved in the overall disorder. Thus, IBS is similar to other chronic pain disorders, such as fibromyalgia, chronic regional pain disorder and temporomandibular joint disorder, as chronic nociceptive mechanisms are activated in all of these disorders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Hypersensitivity*
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / immunology*
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / physiopathology*