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Med Sci Monit. 2004 Jun;10(6):RA125-31. Epub 2004 Jun 1.

The brain-gut axis in irritable bowel syndrome--clinical aspects.

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Department of Infectious Diseases and Hepatology, Jagiellonian University School of Medicine, ul. Sniadeckich 10, 31-153 Kraków, Poland.


Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is the most common chronic gastrointestinal (GI) disorder, affecting about 20% of the world's population. Chronic abdominal pain or discomfort relieved by defecation and associated with altered bowel habits are the mainstay in diagnosis. The pathophysiology of IBS remains unknown. This biopsychosocial disorder involves dysregulation of the nervous system, altered intestinal motility, and increased visceral sensitivity. All of these result from dysregulation of the bidirectional communication between the gut with its enteric nervous system and the brain (the brain-gut axis), modulated by various psychosocial and environmental factors (e.g. infection, inflammation). Numerous neurotransmitters are found in the brain and gut that regulate GI activities, including 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT, serotonin) and its 5-HT3 and 5-HT4 receptors. The current approach to IBS patients is based on a positive diagnosis of the symptom complex, exclusion of underlying organic disease, and institution of a therapeutic trial. Traditional symptomatic treatment has included antidiarrheals, laxatives and bulking agents/fiber, low-dose tricyclic antidepressants, antispasmodics for pain, and "alternative" therapies (e.g. psychotherapy, hypnotherapy). The scientific evidence supporting this therapy is limited. Novel approaches include visceral analgesics and serotonin agonists and antagonists. In patients with severe diarrhea, 5-HT3 receptor antagonists (e.g. alosetron) and selective M3-type anticholinergics are indicated, in constipation 5-HT4 agonists (e.g. tegaserod), and in pain alfa2-adrenergics (e.g. clonidine), cholecystokinin antagonists, kappa-opioid agonists (e.g. fedotozine), and neurokinin antagonists; some of these agents are still being investigated. Understanding the brain-gut axis is crucial in the development of effective therapies for IBS.

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