The colonic migrating motor complex (CMMC) is necessary for fecal pellet propulsion in the murine colon. We have previously shown that 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT) released from enterochromaffin cells activates 5-HT(3) receptors on the mucosal processes of myenteric Dogiel type II neurons to initiate the events underlying the CMMC. Our aims were to further investigate the roles of 5-HT(1A), 5-HT(3), and 5-HT(7) receptor subtypes in generating and propagating the CMMC using intracellular microelectrodes or tension recordings from the circular muscle (CM) in preparations with and without the mucosa. Spontaneous CMMCs were recorded from the CM in isolated murine colons but not in preparations without the mucosa. In mucosaless preparations, ondansetron (3 microM; 5-HT(3) antagonist) plus hexamethonium (100 microM) completely blocked spontaneous inhibitory junction potentials, depolarized the CM. Ondansetron blocked the preceding hyperpolarization associated with a CMMC. Spontaneous CMMCs and CMMCs evoked by spritzing 5-HT (10 and 100 microM) or nerve stimulation in preparations without the mucosa were blocked by SB 258719 or SB 269970 (1-5 microM; 5-HT(7) antagonists). Both NAN-190 and (S)-WAY100135 (1-5 microM; 5-HT(1A) antagonists) blocked spontaneous CMMCs and neurally evoked CMMCs in preparations without the mucosa. Both NAN-190 and (S)-WAY100135 caused an atropine-sensitive depolarization of the CM. The precursor of 5-HT, 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) (10 microM), and 5-carboxamidotryptamine (5-CT) (5 microM; 5-HT(1/5/7) agonist) increased the frequency of spontaneous CMMCs. 5-HTP and 5-CT also induced CMMCs in preparations with and without the mucosa, which were blocked by SB 258719. 5-HT(1A), 5-HT(3), and 5-HT(7) receptors, most likely on Dogiel Type II/AH neurons, are important in initiating, generating, and propagating the CMMC. Tonic inhibition of the CM appears to be driven by ongoing activity in descending serotonergic interneurons; by activating 5-HT(7) receptors on AH neurons these interneurons also contribute to the generation of the CMMC.