To determine the effects of luminal protease inhibition on duodenal delivery and the intraluminal fate of pancreatic enzymes, six healthy subjects were intubated with an oro-ileal multilumen tube assembly. By using nonabsorbable markers, cumulative trypsin, chymotrypsin, lipase, and amylase activities were measured as delivered to duodenum, midjejunum, and distal ileum, with or without simultaneous duodenal perfusion of the protease inhibitor camostat at graded doses. Compared with saline, camostat (a) inhibited trypsin activity in the entire small intestinal lumen by up to 99%, and significantly reduced chymotrypsin activity by up to 89%; (b) significantly increased duodenal deliveries of lipase activity, amylase activity and volume; (c) did not influence plasma cholecystokinin concentrations; and (d) significantly increased jejunal and ileal deliveries of lipase but not amylase activity. Small intestinal transit and motility were not affected by camostat. In additional in vitro studies, camostat significantly reduced the spontaneous decline in lipase activity in fresh human duodenal juice incubated at 37 degrees C. These findings demonstrate that duodenal deliveries of lipase and amylase activities increase when intraluminal protease activity is decreased; they suggest that this increase is not caused by slower proteolytic destruction of enzyme protein but by stimulation of pancreatic secretion. Thus, luminal protease-mediated feedback regulation of pancreatic secretion may be operative in humans. Because plasma cholecystokinin concentrations were not affected, these effects may in part be independent of cholecystokinin. The data further suggest that proteolytic digestion plays a major role in the rapid loss of luminal lipase activity on small intestinal transit.