Using simultaneous esophageal manometry and radionuclide transit studies, we compared liquid bolus transport with the various parameters of esophageal contractions. Study subjects included seven normal individuals, six patients with the "nutcracker esophagus" (mean distal peristaltic amplitude greater than 180 mm Hg), and three patients with spastic motility disorders. Manometric studies were performed when the subjects were in the basal state and after intravenous administration of edrophonium and atropine. Simultaneous radionuclide studies were done with subjects in the supine position by swallows of 250 mu Ci technetium Tc 99m sulfur colloid in 10 ml water. We found that normal liquid bolus transport (less than 15 seconds) is primarily dependent on the presence of a peristaltic wave front throughout the esophagus. Above a threshold pressure of 30 mm Hg, liquid transport was not affected by amplitude (33 to 500 mm Hg) or duration (3 to 15 seconds) of esophageal contractions. Repetitive wave forms also gave normal transit times as long as the wave front was peristaltic in onset. There was a significant inverse correlation (-0.65; P less than 0.001) between liquid transit time and peristaltic velocity. Prolonged radionuclide transport (30 to less than 50 seconds) was observed only with nonperistaltic contractions and very low amplitude (15 to 30 mm Hg) peristaltic waves.