Symptoms attributable to hyperventilation are common among patients with the irritable bowel syndrome (IBS); indeed, some have suggested that hyperventilation may exacerbate the alimentary symptoms of IBS. Hyperventilation changes haemodynamic function through central and peripheral mechanisms; its effects on colonic motor function, however, are unknown. The aim of this study, therefore, was to assess the effects of hyperventilation on colonic tone and motility and on cardiovascular autonomic activity, and to discover if hypocapnia was critical to elicit the response. Phasic and tonic motility of the transverse and sigmoid colon, end tidal PCO2, pulse rate, and beat to beat pulse variability were assessed before, during, and after a five minute period of hypocapnic hyperventilation in 15 healthy volunteers; in seven other subjects, effects of both eucapnic and hypocapnic hyperventilation were evaluated. Hypocapnic but not eucapnic hyperventilation produced an increase in colonic tone and phasic contractility in the transverse and sigmoid regions and an increase in pulse rate and pulse interval variability. The findings are consistent with inhibition of sympathetic innervation to the colon or direct effects of hypocapnia on colonic smooth muscle, or both. These physiological gut responses suggest that some of the changes in colonic function are caused by altered brain or autonomic control mechanisms.