Intestinal microbiota and immune function in the pathogenesis of irritable bowel syndrome

Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2013 Oct 15;305(8):G529-41. doi: 10.1152/ajpgi.00207.2012. Epub 2013 Jul 25.


The pathophysiology of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is believed to involve alterations in the brain-gut axis; however, the etiological triggers and mechanisms by which these changes lead to symptoms of IBS remain poorly understood. Although IBS is often considered a condition without an identified "organic" etiology, emerging evidence suggests that alterations in the gastrointestinal microbiota and altered immune function may play a role in the pathogenesis of the disorder. These recent data suggest a plausible model in which changes in the intestinal microbiota and activation of the enteric immune system may impinge upon the brain-gut axis, causing the alterations in gastrointestinal function and the clinical symptoms observed in patients with IBS. This review summarizes the current evidence for altered intestinal microbiota and immune function in IBS. It discusses the potential etiological role of these factors, suggests an updated conceptual model for the pathogenesis of the disorder, and identifies areas for future research.

Keywords: gastrointestinal; inflammation; microbiota.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Intestines / immunology*
  • Intestines / microbiology*
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / microbiology*