Erythromycin is a prokinetic agent for the lower oesophageal sphincter, the stomach, the gallbladder and the small bowel, acting directly on motilin receptors. Its effect on pressure activity of the human colon has not been investigated. Eight healthy volunteers were studied on 2 occasions and given intravenous or oral erythromycin, or placebo in a single-blind, randomized crossover study. Sigmoid pressure activity was measured using a 4-lumen water perfused system placed sigmoidoscopically at 50, 45, 30 and 15 cm from the anal verge. The pressures were analysed for activity index (mmHg.min) for the 35 cm colonic study segment using dedicated software. No significant difference was found in the activity index following oral erythromycin (500 mg) or placebo, or following intravenous erythromycin 1.8 mg/kg or placebo. A further 8 subjects were studied in a single-blind crossover study to determine the effect of oral erythromycin (500 mg) b.d. on colonic transit, measured with radio-opaque markers and a single abdominal X-ray. Mean or segmental colonic transit times were not statistically significantly different (Student's paired t-test) in the subjects on placebo or erythromycin. This lack of effect of erythromycin on the distal large intestine may indicate the absence of receptors for motilin in that part of the gut.