The aim of this study was to elucidate the importance of biliary output for the regulation of migrating motor complex and the release of plasma motilin. Gallbladder emptying was monitored by hepatobiliary scintigraphy, plasma motilin concentration by radioimmunoassay and gastrointestinal motility by a perfused catheter system. During a total recording time of 46 h and 20 min in 16 volunteers, we observed 29 episodes of gallbladder emptying, 27 plasma motilin peaks and 23 activity fronts (phase 3 activity) of the migrating motor complex (MMC). Twelve episodes of gallbladder emptying started in phase 1 and continued into phase 2 of the MMC. The remaining 17 episodes of gallbladder emptying started in phase 2, and three of these continued into phase 3 of the MMC. Biliary output was associated with a significant rise in plasma motilin concentration, whereas plasma motilin significantly decreased after the activity fronts. These observations may explain the well-known fluctuations of plasma motilin concentration in the fasted state. Motilin is released into the circulation as a result of biliary output, while the ensuing activity front of the MMC removes this stimulant from the proximal small bowel, resulting in a fall in plasma motilin. In conclusion, we have confirmed a temporal relationship between biliary output into the duodenum and the release of plasma motilin. The observed transition from phase 1 to phase 2 and from phase 2 to phase 3 of the MMC during gallbladder emptying episodes suggests that biliary output stimulates gastrointestinal motility in the fasted state.