Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a highly prevalent functional bowel disorder. Serotonin (5-HT) is known to play a physiological and pathophysiological role in the regulation of gastrointestinal function. In experimental studies, 5-HT3 receptor antagonists have been reported to slow colon transit, to blunt gastrocolonic reflex, and to reduce rectal sensitivity. Alosetron and cilansetron, potent and selective 5-HT3 receptor antagonists, have proven efficacy in the treatment of IBS with diarrhea (IBS-D). However, alosetron was voluntarily withdrawn due to postmarketing reports of ischemic colitis and complications of constipation, and cilansetron was never marketed. Currently alosetron is available under a risk management program for women with severe IBS-D. Ramosetron is another potent and selective 5-HT3 receptor antagonist, which has been marketed in Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. In animal studies, ramosetron reduced defecation induced by corticotrophin-releasing hormone and had inhibitory effects on colonic nociception. In two randomized controlled studies including 957 patients with IBS-D, ramosetron increased monthly responder rates of patient-reported global assessment of IBS symptom relief compared with placebo. Ramosetron was also as effective as mebeverine in male patients with IBS-D. In a recent randomized controlled trial with 343 male patients with IBS-D, ramosetron has proved effective in improving stool consistency, relieving abdominal pain/discomfort, and improving health-related quality of life. Regarding safety, ramosetron is associated with a lower incidence of constipation compared with other 5-HT3 receptor antagonists and has not been associated with ischemic colitis. Although further large prospective studies are needed to assess whether ramosetron is effective for female patients with IBS-D and to evaluate its long-term safety, ramosetron appears to be one of the most promising agents for patients with IBS-D.
Keywords: 5-HT3; diarrhea; irritable bowel syndrome; ramosetron; serotonin.