The aim of this study was to correlate the movement of colonic luminal contents with the changes in intraluminal pressure. Studies were performed in 9 healthy volunteers. Intraluminal pressure was measured with perfused catheter ports in the transverse, splenic flexure, descending, and sigmoid colon. Movement of the luminal contents was measured by following the movement of technetium 99m-ethylenetriamine-pentaacetic acid that was instilled as a bolus in the splenic flexure. During fasting there was very little change in pressure or in the movement of intraluminal contents. After eating a 1000-kcal meal, the tracer moved from the splenic flexure into the transverse colon and the sigmoid colon. Nonpropagating colonic motor activity increased in all colonic segments immediately after eating the meal (p less than 0.05). The increase in motility was significantly greater in the descending colon than in the transverse and sigmoid colon (p less than 0.05). In one-half of the subjects propagating contractions occurred postprandially. The movement of the intraluminal tracer occurred during both types of motility. The nonpropagating contractions were associated with a gradual movement of the luminal contents. The direction of the movement of the contents was determined by the differences in pressure in the different segments of the colon. The propagating contractions were associated with a rapid movement of intraluminal contents. These studies suggest that (a) colonic motility and transit are quiescent during fasting and (b) the transverse colon acts as a mixing and storage area, as retrograde transit into the transverse colon is the characteristic postprandial pattern.