It is unknown how the interdigestive migrating motor complex influences the gastric emptying of liquids. Therefore, the gastric emptying rate of 50- and 200-mL volumes of phenol red solution were measured while monitoring contractile activity. Motor activity was recorded using a hydraulic manometric system and expressed as either the proximity of dosing time to time of appearance of phase III or as a motility index, defined as (contractile area)/(sampling interval time). After an initial lag period, emptying was log linear. With a 50-mL oral dose, the mean gastric emptying rate of the log-linear phase was successively faster during phase I (0.018 +/- 0.003 min-1), phase II (0.083 +/- 0.031 min-1), and late phase II/III (0.171 +/- 0.066 min-1) (P less than 0.05). Similarly, the mean lag time decreased successively with phases I, II, and late II/III (19.1 +/- 12.4, 7.6 +/- 5.6, and 3.8 +/- 2.8 minutes, respectively). At a 200-mL oral dose, there was no difference in the emptying rate between phase I and phase II (0.104 +/- 0.0014 vs. 0.110 +/- 0.041 min-1), but the emptying rate during late phase II/III was significantly greater (0.236 +/- 0.069 min-1); lag time was not dependent on phase. There was a statistical difference in the overall mean emptying rate between the 50- and 200-mL volumes. Also, during phase I, the emptying rate was faster for the 200-mL volume. This study shows a strong dependence of liquid gastric emptying rate and lag time on interdigestive antral motility, the emptying of small volumes being more dependent on motility phase than that of large volumes. Phase-related fluctuations in contractile activity can account for much of the reported variability in gastric emptying data. Furthermore, this study suggests that dose volume and interdigestive motor activity at the time of drug administration can affect absorption and onset of therapeutic response for some drugs.