Gastric emptying was measured in normal and insulin-treated spontaneously diabetic BB rats using the retention of an acaloric methylcellulose gel containing phenol red delivered by gavage. Dye content in stomachs removed after killing 20 min later was determined spectroscopically, and was compared to that in rats killed immediately after gavage to assess emptying. Diabetic rats had a markedly greater gastric emptying (90.3 +/- 1.7% passed) compared to normal Harlan Sprague Dawley rats (49.1 +/- 4.7% passed; p < 0.001) and non-diabetic BB rats (61.1 +/- 9.2% passed; p < 0.001). The pancreatic beta-cell peptide, amylin, which is deficient in insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, dose-dependently inhibited gastric emptying in both normal and diabetic rats. The ED50 of the response in normal rats measured by phenol red and novel [3-3H]glucose gavage techniques was approximately 0.4 microgram. This dose was estimated to increase plasma amylin concentration by a mean of approximately 20 pmol/l to concentrations within the range observed in vivo. It is proposed that amylin could participate in the physiological control of nutrient entry into the duodenum and that the accelerated gastric emptying seen in BB rats could be related to their lack of amylin secretion.