Mediators and pharmacology of visceral sensitivity: from basic to clinical investigations

Gastroenterology. 1997 May;112(5):1714-43. doi: 10.1016/s0016-5085(97)70056-8.


Over the last decade, the role of visceral sensitivity has been largely recognized in the pathophysiology of functional digestive disorders, particularly in the irritable bowel syndrome. These studies have highlighted the role of afferent pathways arising from the gut as a possible target for new treatments intended to relieve pain or modify altered reflexes present in such patients. These pharmacological targets have been identified mainly by studies on animal models of visceral hyperalgesia of various origins including local inflammation. Locally, several mediators are of paramount importance for sensitization of nerve endings: 5-hydroxytryptamine, bradykinin, tachykinins, calcitonin gene-related peptide, and neurotrophins. Selective antagonists to various subtypes of their receptors are currently available and have been shown to be active in these animal models. Other substances, such as somatostatin, opiold peptides, cholecystokinin, oxytocin, and adenosine, modulate the transmission of nociceptive inputs from the gut to the brain and are of clinical interest. This article reviews the current understanding of these mediators. Although these agents seem to be promising tools for the treatment of visceral hyperalgesia and its consequences (abdominal pain and disturbed reflexes), their clinical efficacy remains to be shown. A better understanding of the nature and the location of the defect in the sensory pathways may permit the selection of subgroups of patients for treatment according to the pharmacological properties of these new therapeutic agents.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / diagnosis
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Hyperalgesia / physiopathology
  • Inflammation / physiopathology
  • Nervous System / physiopathology
  • Sensation / drug effects
  • Sensation / physiology*
  • Viscera / physiopathology*