The present study investigated how a cholinergic agonist modifies interdigestive motility and secretion of the upper gastrointestinal tract and how muscarinic and cholecystokinin receptor blockade interfere with this direct cholinergic stimulation. In eight healthy volunteers, gastrointestinal motor and secretory responses to bethanechol (12.5, 25, and 50 micrograms kg-1 h-1) with and without a background of atropine (5 micrograms kg-1 h-1) or loxiglumide (10 mg kg-1 h-1) were studied. Stepdoses of bethanechol caused a parallel stimulation of antroduodenal motility and gastropancreatic secretion (P < 0.01) without inducing a fed pattern. However, duration of phase I was shortened (P < 0.05). Only high doses of bethanechol enhanced gastrin (P < 0.05), cholecystokinin (P < 0.05), and pancreatic polypeptide (P < 0.01) release. Atropine completely antagonized motor and secretory responses to cholinergic stimulation. Loxiglumide left cholinergically stimulated motility and pancreatic enzyme secretion unaltered. With co-infusion of bethanechol and loxiglumide, PP release dropped by 63% (P < 0.01); gastric acid output, gastrin and CCK release increased by 56%, 16%, and 25%, respectively (P < 0.05). We conclude that stimulation by a cholinergic agonist preserves the interdigestive pattern. Low dose muscarinic receptor blockade abolishes cholinergic stimulation over the full dose range. Inhibition of somatostatin release would explain stimulation of gastrin release and gastric acid secretion with co-infusion of bethanechol and loxiglumide. Endogenous CCK appears to interact with direct cholinergic stimulation at the pancreatic PP cell and the gastric D-cell but not at pancreatic acinar and antroduodenal smooth muscle cells.