The effect of an intestinal microflora consisting of selected microbial species on myoelectric activity of small intestine was studied using germ-free rat models, with recording before and after specific intestinal colonization, in the unanesthetized state. Intestinal transit, neuropeptides in blood (RIA), and neuromessengers in the intestinal wall were determined. Clostridium tabificum vp 04 promoted regular spike burst activity, shown by a reduction of the migrating myoelectric complex (MMC) period from 30.5 +/- 3.9 min in the germ-free state to 21.2 +/- 0.14 min (P < 0.01). Lactobacillus acidophilus A10 and Bifidobacterium bifidum B11 reduced the MMC period from 27.9 +/- 4.5 to 21.5 +/- 2.1 min (P < 0.02) and accelerated small intestinal transit (P < 0.05). Micrococcus luteus showed an inhibitory effect, with an MMC period of 35.9 +/- 9.3 min compared with 27.7 +/- 6.3 min in germ-free rats (P < 0.01). Inhibition was indicated also for Escherichia coli X7 gnotobiotic rats. No consistent changes in slow wave frequency were observed. The concentration of neuropeptide Y in blood decreased after introduction of conventional intestinal microflora, suggesting reduced inhibitory control. Intestinal bacteria promote or suppress the initiation and aboral migration of the MMC depending on the species involved. Bacteria with primitive fermenting metabolism (anaerobes) emerge as important promoters of regular spike burst activity in small intestine.