The Diverse Metabolic Roles of Peripheral Serotonin

Endocrinology. 2017 May 1;158(5):1049-1063. doi: 10.1210/en.2016-1839.


Serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine or 5-HT) is a multifunctional bioamine with important signaling roles in a range of physiological pathways. Almost all of the 5-HT in our bodies is synthesized in specialized enteroendocrine cells within the gastrointestinal (GI) mucosa called enterochromaffin (EC) cells. These cells provide all of our circulating 5-HT. We have long appreciated the important contributions of 5-HT within the gut, including its role in modulating GI motility. However, evidence of the physiological and clinical significance of gut-derived 5-HT outside of the gut has recently emerged, implicating 5-HT in regulation of glucose homeostasis, lipid metabolism, bone density, and diseases associated with metabolic syndrome, such as obesity and type 2 diabetes. Although a new picture has developed in the last decade regarding the various metabolic roles of peripheral serotonin, so too has our understanding of the physiology of EC cells. Given that they are scattered throughout the lining of the GI tract within the epithelial cell layer, these cells are typically difficult to study. Advances in isolation procedures now allow the study of pure EC-cell cultures and single cells, enabling studies of EC-cell physiology to occur. EC cells are sensory cells that are capable of integrating cues from ingested nutrients, the enteric nervous system, and the gut microbiome. Thus, levels of peripheral 5-HT can be modulated by a multitude of factors, resulting in both local and systemic effects for the regulation of a raft of physiological pathways related to metabolism and obesity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Energy Metabolism* / drug effects
  • Enteric Nervous System / drug effects
  • Enteric Nervous System / metabolism
  • Enteroendocrine Cells / metabolism
  • Gastrointestinal Motility / drug effects
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / drug effects
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Serotonin / metabolism
  • Serotonin / pharmacology
  • Serotonin / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects


  • Serotonin