A greater understanding of the various serotonin receptor subtypes has led to a clearer appreciation of the role of serotonin in gastrointestinal motility, sensation and secretion. Serotonin is definitely involved in the aetiopathogenesis of cisplatin-induced emesis and carcinoid diarrhoea. The application of serotonergic drugs in clinical therapeutics for gut disturbances is presently dominated by the use of 5-HT3 antagonists for acute chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, and the use of substituted benzamides which are 5-HT4 agonists stimulating gut motor function through 5-HT4 neuronal receptors. The best-studied 5-HT4 agonist is cisapride, which has been shown to stimulate motility at several levels of the gut. Cisapride is approved for healing and maintenance treatment of reflux oesophagitis and is used in several countries for the alleviation of symptoms consistent with regional stasis, from dyspepsia to constipation. Carcinoid diarrhoea is a prototypic disease associated with deranged serotonin metabolism, and a rationale for using 5-HT3 or 5-HT4 antagonists is based on the recent appreciation of the important role of impaired gut motor function in carcinoid diarrhoea. In the future, greater understanding of the serotonin receptor subtypes and their role in gut disorders may lead to novel approaches to alleviate increased visceral perception of functional gastrointestinal disorders, to correct changes in colonic capacitance, or to alter gastrointestinal motility that contributes to diarrhoea or constipation. However, at the present time, it must be stressed that these uses are still at an experimental stage and that careful validation and proper controlled studies are still required.
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