Abstract Alterations in gastrointestinal motility of diabetic patients have been linked to degenerative changes induced by glucose abnormalities in the peripheral nervous system. The heme oxygenase/carbon monoxide (HO/CO) signalling represents one of the non-adrenergic/non-cholinergic (NANC) neurotransmission pathways involved in regulation of physiological peristalsis. To investigate the role of HO/CO system in intestinal motility under diabetic conditions, the response to electrical field stimulation (EFS) and western blot analysis of HO/CO pathway components were studied on duodenum longitudinal smooth muscle strips isolated from streptozotocin (STZ)-treated diabetic rats (65 mg kg−1, i.p.) and respective controls (CTRL), 6 weeks after the onset of diabetes. When compared to CTRL, the ability of CO releasing molecule (CORM-3) (100–400 μmol L−1) to enhance NANC relaxation was significantly impaired in STZ-treated rats (P < 0.05). Conversely, in vitro incubation with the HO inhibitor ZnPPIX (10 μmol L−1, 60 min) significantly reduced EFS-induced relaxation in CTRL (P < 0.05), but not in STZ-treated rats. Interestingly, the ability of ZnPPIX to inhibit EFS-induced relaxation was partially restored in STZ-treated rats co-administered in vivo with the HO-1 inducer cobalt protoporphyrin IX (CoPPIX) (0.5 mg per 100 g body weight weekly). Expression of inducible HO-1 protein was increased in homogenates from STZ-treated rats (vs CTRL, P < 0.01), and further increased in STZ-treated rats receiving CoPPIX (P < 0.05). Taken together, our data underline the essential role of HO/CO system in regulation of inhibitory NANC neurotransmission in the duodenum and suggest that dysregulation of HO/CO activity may represent one mechanism by which gastrointestinal motility is altered in diabetes.