Our first aim was to compare 111In-labeled Amberlite IR-12OP resin pellets and 131I-labeled fiber in the assessment of gastric and small bowel transit and colonic filling in healthy humans. Both radiolabels were highly stable for 3 h in an in vitro stomach model and remained predominantly bound to solid phase of stools collected over 5 days [90.5 +/- 2.1 (SE)% for 131I and 87.4 +/- 1.4% for 111In). The lag phase of gastric emptying was shorter for 111In-pellets (30 +/- 11 min compared with 58 +/- 12 min for 131I-fiber, P less than 0.05). However, the slope of the postlag phase of gastric emptying and the half time of small bowel transit were not significantly different for 111In-pellets and 131I-fiber. Filling of the colon was characterized by bolus movements of the radiolabel (10-80% range, 26% mean) followed by plateaus (periods of no movement of isotope into colon lasting 15-120 min, range; 51 min, mean). Half of the bolus movements occurred within 1 h of the intake of a second meal. Thus 111In-labeled Amberlite pellets provide an excellent marker for the study of gastric and small bowel transit and colonic filling in humans. The ileum acts as a reservoir and transfers boluses of variable sizes into the colon, often soon after the intake of a subsequent meal.