This study monitored high-amplitude propagated contractions (HAPCs) in ambulating subjects over a 24-h period using a new ambulatory recording system. Twelve healthy volunteers aged 34 +/- 5.96 yr participated. Approximately 12 h after a Colyte bowel prep, a small catheter (OD less than 3 mm), containing three solid-state pressure transducers spaced 5 cm apart, was positioned by flexible sigmoidoscope at 40-50 cm from the anal verge. A battery-operated data recorder sampled the pressure at each port at 1 Hz and stored the values on all ports if any port exceeded 75 mmHg. At the conclusion of the 24-h period, an X-ray was taken to confirm the location of the catheter. Fifty-four percent of all HAPCs preceded a bowel movement by less than or equal to 1 h. Forty-nine percent of all HAPCs occurred within 1 h after a high-fat meal, and 33% occurred within 1 h of morning awakening. Reverse propagated waves, not previously described in the colon, were observed in three individuals. Spontaneous high-amplitude caudally propagated contractions occur 6.9 +/- 1.5 times/24 h in the sigmoid colon in ambulating asymptomatic individuals and are temporally related to defecation and meals. Peristaltic activity is decreased during sleep. This recording technique was reliable and well tolerated in all participants.