Effect of ondansetron, a 5-HT3 receptor antagonist, on the dynamic association between bulimic behaviors and pain thresholds

Pain. 1998 Sep;77(3):297-303. doi: 10.1016/S0304-3959(98)00108-0.


Thresholds for detection of both pressure and thermal pain are elevated in patients with bulimia nervosa. The present study was aimed at determining (1) if pressure pain detection thresholds (PDT) varied dynamically with the primary disease symptoms of binge eating and vomiting and (2) if the elevation in PDT was effected by treatment with ondansetron (ONDAN), a 5-HT3 receptor antagonist. PDT was defined as the mean of the minimal amount of pressure (measured in g) perceived as painful when exerted by a 1 mm2 blunted point onto the center of the ventral surface of the ungual phalanx of digits 2-5 of the non-dominant hand. Fourteen female patients with severe bulimia nervosa (currently >seven binge/vomit episodes per week; > 2 years illness duration) served as participants. PDT were evaluated at weekly intervals during the course of ongoing treatment studies (double-blind and 'open' label) investigating the therapeutic effects of ONDAN. Data were analyzed by random regression analyses, allowing for the repeated-measures and non-orthogonal design. Data collected from 14 patients under the no-drug condition indicated that PDT increased over the interval between binge/vomit episodes, with significant elevations occurring at times when patients had naturally exceeded their average inter-binge interval. Eleven of these 14 patients underwent 4 weeks of ONDAN treatment. Under this drug condition, the time since the last binge/vomit episode was no longer a significant predictor of PDT. These patients also experienced a significant reduction in the frequency of bulimic behaviors, a finding reported in detail elsewhere. The above finding from untreated patients support the involvement of a common underlying mechanism driving both the increase in pain detection thresholds and the occurrence of the next bulimic episode. This possibility is further supported by the findings that ONDAN treatment is associated with a significant moderation of both variables. The effect of ONDAN may be mediated by blockade of afferent vagal neurotransmission, although other mechanisms must be considered.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bulimia / drug therapy*
  • Feeding Behavior / drug effects
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Nociceptors / drug effects
  • Ondansetron / administration & dosage*
  • Pain Threshold / drug effects*
  • Physical Stimulation
  • Pressure
  • Receptors, Serotonin / physiology*
  • Receptors, Serotonin, 5-HT3
  • Serotonin Antagonists / administration & dosage*
  • Vagus Nerve / physiology
  • Vomiting / drug therapy


  • Receptors, Serotonin
  • Receptors, Serotonin, 5-HT3
  • Serotonin Antagonists
  • Ondansetron