There is an urgent clinical need for a safe, efficacious stimulant of gastric emptying; current therapies include erythromycin (an antibiotic with additional properties which preclude chronic use) and metoclopramide (a 5-hydroxytryptamine type 4 receptor agonist and an antagonist at brain D2 receptors, associated with movement disorders). To move away from the complex motilide structure of erythromycin, a small molecule motilin receptor agonist, GSK962040, was identified and characterized. The compound was evaluated using recombinant human receptors, rabbit and human isolated stomach preparations known to respond to motilin and in vivo, by measuring its ability to increase defecation in conscious rabbits. At the human motilin receptor, the pEC50 (the negative logarithm to base 10 of the EC50 value, the concentration of agonist that produces 50% of the maximal response) values for GSK962040 and erythromycin as agonists were, respectively, 7.9 and 7.3; GSK962040 had no significant activity at a range of other receptors (including ghrelin), ion channels and enzymes. In rabbit gastric antrum, GSK962040 300 nmol L(-1)-10 micromol L(-1) caused a prolonged facilitation of the amplitude of cholinergically mediated contractions, to a maximum of 248 +/- 47% at 3 micromol L(-1). In human-isolated stomach, GSK962040 10 micromol L(-1), erythromycin 10 micromol L(-1) and [Nle13]-motilin 100 nmol L(-1), each caused muscle contraction of similar amplitude. In conscious rabbits, intravenous doses of 5 mg kg(-1) GSK962040 or 10 mg kg(-1) erythromycin significantly increased faecal output over a 2-h period. Together, these data show that GSK962040, a non-motilide structure, selectively activates the motilin receptor. Simplification of the structural requirements to activate this receptor greatly facilitates the design of potentially new medicines for gastroparesis.