Unraveling the ties between irritable bowel syndrome and intestinal microbiota

World J Gastroenterol. 2014 Mar 14;20(10):2470-81. doi: 10.3748/wjg.v20.i10.2470.


Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is the most prevalent functional gastrointestinal disorder. It is a multifactorial disorder. Intestinal microbiota may cause the pathogenesis of IBS by contributing to abnormal gastrointestinal motility, low-grade inflammation, visceral hypersensitivity, communication in the gut-brain axis, and so on. Previous attempts to identify the intestinal microbiota composition in IBS patients have yielded inconsistent and occasionally contradictory results. This inconsistency may be due to the differences in the molecular techniques employed, the sample collection and handling methods, use of single samples that are not linked to fluctuating symptoms, or other factors such as patients' diets and phenotypic characterizations. Despite these difficulties, previous studies found that the intestinal microbiota in some IBS patients was completely different from that in healthy controls, and there does appear to be a consistent theme of Firmicutes enrichment and reduced abundance of Bacteroides. Based on the differences in intestinal microbiota composition, many studies have addressed the roles of microbiota-targeted treatments, such as antibiotics and probiotics, in alleviating certain symptoms of IBS. This review summarizes the current knowledge of the associations between intestinal microbiota and IBS as well as the possible modes of action of intestinal microbiota in the pathogenesis of IBS. Improving the current level of understanding of host-microbiota interactions in IBS is important not only for determining the role of intestinal microbiota in IBS pathogenesis but also for therapeutic modulation of the microbiota.

Keywords: Antibiotics; Dysbiosis; Intestinal microbiota; Irritable bowel syndrome; Probiotics.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Bacteria / classification
  • Bacteria / drug effects
  • Bacteria / growth & development*
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions
  • Humans
  • Intestines / drug effects
  • Intestines / microbiology*
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / microbiology*
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / therapy
  • Microbiota* / drug effects
  • Probiotics / therapeutic use
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents