Clues to the pathogenesis of functional pain syndromes may be derived from the study of stimuli that precipitate or aggravate symptoms. In this study, cholecystokinin octapeptide (CCK-8, 0.06 microgram/kg) and placebo were given by intravenous infusion (5 min) in random order to control subjects and four groups of patients with unexplained abdominal pain. Induction of pain and nausea were assessed by linear analogue scales while sympathoadrenomedullary responses were assessed by serial changes in plasma concentrations of noradrenaline, adrenaline and dopamine. Scores for pain and nausea were low after infusion of placebo. After infusion of CCK-8, pain scores were significantly higher in patients with spontaneous pain than in control subjects, but significant increases in nausea were restricted to patients with irritable bowel syndrome and a subgroup of patients with pain after cholecystectomy. Although some groups showed increases in plasma concentrations of catecholamines after the infusion of CCK-8, the size of these increases was neither consistent among patients within each group nor predictive of scores of pain and nausea in individual subjects. Pain during the infusion of CCK-8 was a feature common to patients with diverse functional pain syndromes, and did not appear to be attributable to activation of the sympathetic nervous system.