Changes in gastric emptying and orocaecal transit time in patients with ulcerative colitis suggest that disturbances in gut motility may not be restricted to inflamed sites. This study sought to characterize changes in the motility of noninflamed ileum in a rat colitis model and to explore the mechanism(s) potentially involved. The myoelectrical activity of the ileum was recorded in rats with trinitrobenzene sulphonic acid (TNBS)-induced colitis. The degree of ileal and colonic inflammation was assessed by quantification of macroscopic damage and myeloperoxidase activity (MPO). The effect on ileal motility of pretreatment with atropine, indomethacin and NG-nitro- L-arginine-methyl ester (L-NAME) was investigated. TNBS-induced inflammation was restricted to the distal colon, as evidenced by morphological scores and MPO. Colitis was associated with increased frequency of ileal migrating motor complexes, characterized mainly by a decrease in the duration of phases I and III. The occurrence of ileal giant migrating complexes remained unchanged. The myoelectrical changes observed in the ileum persisted after treatment with atropine, indomethacin and L-NAME. Distal colitis is associated with abnormal myoelectrical activity in the noninflamed ileum of rats. Neither acetylcholine nor prostaglandins and nitric oxide seem to be involved.