Efforts to define either a biomarker for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or a valid animal model have proven disappointing. The aims of this study were to determine if buspirone stimulates prolactin release through the 5-hydroxytryptamine (5HT)1a receptor and whether this response is altered in patients with IBS and in the rat maternal separation model. Buspirone (30 mg) was used to stimulate prolactin release in 40 patients with IBS and in 40 healthy controls. In study 1, 10 IBS patients and 10 controls underwent pretreatment with pindolol (5HT1a antagonist) or placebo followed by buspirone. In study 2, 30 patients with IBS and 30 healthy controls had prolactin release stimulated by buspirone. Maternally separated and nonseparated rats were also treated with buspirone and prolactin monitored. Serotonin metabolites were measured together with the expression of the 5HT1a and serotonin transporter (SERT) gene. Pindolol produced a dose-dependent decrease in the buspirone prolactin response. Patients with IBS and maternally separated rats showed an exaggerated release of prolactin in response to buspirone. In the animal model, an increased turnover of 5HT was found in the brainstem together with a trend toward increased activity of the SERT gene. In conclusion altered central serotonin responses are found in both IBS and in an animal model.