Preparations of the circular muscle layer from the sigmoid colon resected from patients with idiopathic chronic constipation were compared, at an electrophysiological level using the sucrose-gap technique, with preparations of the same region of the intestine resected from patients with rectal carcinoma. Non-adrenergic, non-cholinergic inhibitory neuromuscular transmission, represented by inhibitory junction potentials, was present in preparations from both groups. However, the inhibitory response in preparations from constipated patients had a slower or longer time-course than in those from cancer patients. Also, rebound activity following inhibitory transmission was observed in 34% of preparations from constipated patients but was observed in 67% of preparations from cancer patients. Preparations from both groups displayed the same patterns of spontaneous activity and the same proportion of each group was quiescent. The threshold for generation of action potentials and the passive resistance of the smooth muscle membrane were the same in both groups. However, quiescent preparations from constipated patients were less likely to discharge trains of action potentials when the smooth muscle membrane was depolarized than were preparations from cancer patients. These changes in transmission processes and excitability in tissue from constipated patients are discussed in relation to altered states of colonic motility found in people with idiopathic chronic constipation.