Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a functional bowel disorder without any structural or metabolic abnormalities that sufficiently explain the symptoms, which include abdominal pain and discomfort, and bowel habit changes such as diarrhea and constipation. Its pathogenesis is multifactorial: visceral hypersensitivity, dysmotility, psychosocial factors, genetic or environmental factors, dysregulation of the brain-gut axis, and altered intestinal microbiota have all been proposed as possible causes. The human intestinal microbiota are composed of more than 1000 different bacterial species and 10(14) cells, and are essential for the development, function, and homeostasis of the intestine, and for individual health. The putative mechanisms that explain the role of microbiota in the development of IBS include altered composition or metabolic activity of the microbiota, mucosal immune activation and inflammation, increased intestinal permeability and impaired mucosal barrier function, sensory-motor disturbances provoked by the microbiota, and a disturbed gut-microbiota-brain axis. Therefore, modulation of the intestinal microbiota through dietary changes, and use of antibiotics, probiotics, and anti-inflammatory agents has been suggested as strategies for managing IBS symptoms. This review summarizes and discusses the accumulating evidence that intestinal microbiota play a role in the pathophysiology and management of IBS.