The effect of morphine on colonic motility was investigated by recording the colonic myoelectric spiking activity by means of a 50 cm long silastic tube equipped with 4 bipolar AgAgCl ring electrodes fixed at 10 cm intervals that was introduced into the left colon in 8 healthy subjects by flexible sigmoidoscopy. Tracings were obtained for 1 hour in the fasting state and for another 1 hour after i.m. injection of morphine sulphate 0.15 mg/kg. The different types of spike bursts were compared before and after morphine injection. The control tracings showed that the spiking activity of the colon was made of 2 types: 1)- Rhythmic Stationary Spike Bursts (RSB), that were seen at only one electrode site; 2)- Sporadic Bursts, that were either propagating over all 4 electrodes (SPB) or non propagating (SNPB). Injection of morphine was followed by 1)- a considerable increase in the number of RSB from 107 +/- 43 bursts/hour (mean +/- SEM) to 491 +/- 23 bursts/hour; 2)- the complete disappearance of the SPB dropping from 7.3 +/- 2.0 bursts/hour to 0.3 +/- 0.2 bursts/hour; 3)- no significant change in SNPB (from 52 +/- 4 bursts/hour to 57 +/- 5 bursts/hour). These results indicate that 1)- stimulation of colonic smooth muscle activity by morphine seems to result from an increase in the number of rhythmic stationary bursts; 2)- however inhibition of colonic transit may be related to the decrease in the number of sporadic propagating bursts.