Interstitial cells of Cajal (ICCs) have recently been identified as the pacemaker cells for contractile activity of the gastrointestinal tract. These cells generate the electrical 'slow-wave' activity that determines the characteristic frequency of phasic contractions of the stomach, intestine and colon. Slow waves also determine the direction and velocity of propagation of peristaltic activity, in concert with the enteric nervous system. Characterization of receptors and ion channels in the ICC membrane is under way, and manipulation of slow-wave activity markedly alters movement of contents through the gut organs. Here Jan Huizinga, Lars Thuneberg, Jean-Marie Vanderwinden and Jüri Rumessen, suggest that, as ICCs are unique to the gut, they might be ideal targets for pharmacological intervention in gastrointestinal motility disorders, which are very common and costly.