The role of enterohepatic circulation and specific bile acids in the initiation and caudad migration of duodenal migrating motor complexes (MMCs) was investigated in conscious dogs. All dogs had spontaneous duodenal MMCs that migrated to the terminal ileum when bile flow was intact. During the first 3 days after total external biliary diversion, no MMCs originated in the duodenum. Instead, all MMCs originated in the jejunum and migrated to the ileum. During the next 4 days of total external biliary diversion, 81% of the MMCs originated in the jejunum and 19% in the duodenum. When normal bile flow was restored after 9 days of total external biliary diversion, regular duodenal MMCs resumed after a delay of 126 +/- 27 minutes. Perfusion of individual bile acids or dogs' own bile, but not saline or alkaline solution, into the duodenum or perfusion of dogs' own bile directly into the ileum during total external biliary diversion restarted duodenal MMCs with a time lag of about 2 hours. The authors conclude that intact enterohepatic circulation is essential for the initiation of regular duodenal MMCs.