Octreotide, the long-acting somatostatin analogue, has been reported to modulate gastrointestinal motility in both animals and humans. A role in colonic peristalsis and a possible clinical application in common disorders, such as chronic constipation and irritable bowel syndrome, have not been evaluated. It has been previously suggested that octreotide promotes the descending relaxation of the peristaltic reflex arc. We hypothesized that this effect may involve inhibition of the motility index (MI) of the distal colon. To test this proposal, we studied peristalsis in isolated rabbit colons and also in the intact distal colons of anesthetized rabbits undergoing octreotide administration. Left colons of New Zealand white rabbits were harvested, placed in an isolated organ chamber and perfused with Krebs-Ringer bicarbonate solution via the inferior mesenteric artery. In a separate preparation, the colons were left in situ. Motility was quantified with a 6-port continuous infusion manometry catheter. The MI (mm Hg/min) was calculated by integration of the area of the digitalized signal (8/s), which reflected high-pressure peaks of different magnitudes. High-pressure waves were defined as > 20 mm Hg. Octreotide was infused via the inferior mesenteric artery in the isolated specimen or the lateral ear vein in the anesthetized animals in concentrations of 10(-12) to 10(-6) M. Octreotide inhibited high-pressure waves in a dose-dependent manner. These effects resulted in a decreased MI, with the maximum inhibition of 24.6% at 10(-11) M (p < 0.05 by ANOVA). At that concentration, the number of peaks > 20 mm Hg were reduced by 62.2%. The data indicate that octreotide decreases the MI by inhibition of high-pressure waves in the distal rabbit colon. These findings are consistent with the proposal that somatostatin may augment descending relaxation of the peristaltic reflex arc. This effect is independent of neural modulation.