BACKGROUND: Delayed gastric emptying, impaired gastric accommodation to a meal and hypersensitivity to gastric distension have been implied in the pathophysiology of functional dyspepsia. Dyspeptic patients are often treated with the prokinetic drug cisapride. AIM: To assess the effects of cisapride on perception of gastric distension and gastric accommodation to a meal. METHODS: Eighteen healthy volunteers underwent a gastric barostat study on two occasions, after pretreatment with placebo or cisapride 10 mg q.d.s. Graded isobaric and isovolumetric distensions were performed until the subjects reported discomfort. Volume and pressure changes were recorded and perception was scored by a questionnaire. In 10 volunteers, the amplitude of the gastric accommodation to a mixed liquid meal was also measured. RESULTS: Pre-treatment with cisapride significantly lowered thresholds for perception and for discomfort, both during isobaric (4.3 +/- 0.7 vs. 3.2 +/- 0.7 and 12.2 +/- 1.2 vs. 9.2 +/- 0.9 mmHg above minimal distending pressure (MDP), respectively, P < 0.05) and isovolumetric (256 +/- 46 vs. 200 +/- 35 and 644 +/- 36 vs. 511 +/- 40 mL, respectively, P < 0.05) distensions. Cisapride significantly enhanced the size of the meal-induced fundus relaxation (143 +/- 37 vs. 270 +/- 50 mL, P < 0.05). CONCLUSIONS: Cisapride enhances both the perception of gastric distension and the gastric accommodation to a meal. These data suggest that cisapride may provide benefit to patients with impaired postprandial relaxation of the fundus.