Background  The pathogenesis of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is founded on interactive mechanisms. Disentangling these processes is a prerequisite for the development of effective drug therapy.

Aim  To identify the interaction between the various factors implicated in IBS.

Methods  Articles pertaining to IBS pathogenesis focusing on psychoneuroimmunology were identified using following search terms: IBS, animal models, microbiota, probiotics, immunology, visceral hypersensitivity, imaging, psychology and visceral pain.

Results  Cerebral imaging using MRI and proton emission tomography scanning has revealed differential regional cerebral activation, whereas stimuli induced activation has been captured by both MRI and cortical evoked potentials. At the peripheral neurological level, the concept of visceral hypersensitivity has been challenged as perhaps representing psychological traits with symptom over-reporting or hyper-vigilance. Gut mucosal immunology is thought to be relevant with immunological changes reflected as peripheral blood cytokine level changes. Molecular technology advances suggest a role for microbiota by activating the gut immunological system. These interactions have been examined in IBS animal models.

Conclusions  Translation of animal model findings to humans is needed to link the various psychological, neurological and immunological changes noted in IBS. This analysis may identify patient sub-groups, which will ultimately be critical for drug testing to be focused accordingly.