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Hoffmann, R. A wiki for the life sciences where authorship matters. Nature Genetics (2008)

Serotonergic modulation and irritable bowel syndrome.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a debilitating disease, which is characterised by recurrent abdominal cramping and pain, and is associated with either constipation and/or diarrhoea. It is approximately twice as prevalent in women as it is in men and is among the most common gastrointestinal (GI) disorders encountered in primary care. The aetiology of the disease is poorly understood but may include motility dysregulation, visceral sensitivity, inflammation, bacterial infection, dietary antigens, psychological stress, GI surgery or a gut-brain phenomenon. At present, there is no acceptable treatment for IBS, although recent advances indicate that some relief may be achieved by the administration of compounds that act on 5-HT (serotonin) receptors. This suggestion is the result of numerous studies which have shown that 5-HT may exert a number of diverse effects on human GI tissues. In addition, it has emerged that the levels of the 5-HT metabolite (5-HIAA) are raised in the plasma of IBS patients and that administration of 5-HT-like compounds may mimic the symptoms of IBS. It has therefore been proposed that therapy with compounds that act at 5-HT receptors will return the intestine to normal activity and alleviate the pain experienced by these patients. One compound (alosetron, a 5-HT3 receptor antagonist) has already been released onto the market but showed benefit in female patients only and only in those whose primary symptom was diarrhoea. In addition, the compound was recently withdrawn following concerns over its safety. The reasons why alosetron only appears to show efficacy in females, why these treatments are only effective in a subset of the population of IBS patients and why alosetron elicits its particular side effect profile have not been elucidated. One further serotonergic compound, tegaserod (Zelmac, a 5-HT4 receptor agonist), has shown promise for the treatment of patients with constipation-predominant IBS and is currently in pre-registration for this indication. It is clear, however, that further research will have to take place before the utility of serotonergic modulation in the treatment of IBS can be fully validated.[1]


  1. Serotonergic modulation and irritable bowel syndrome. Borman, R. Expert opinion on emerging drugs. (2001) [Pubmed]
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