The biological activity of porcine and canine motilin was studied in rabbits by establishing dose-response curves of both peptides using two different methods. The dissociation constant, obtained from the displacement of iodinated porcine motilin by canine motilin was 0.6 +/- 0.3 nM, versus 1.2 +/- 0.4 nM for porcine motilin. For the 13-norleucine and 13-leucine analogues of porcine motilin a value of 0.8 +/- 0.3 nM was obtained. Both motilins were almost equipotent in stimulating the in vitro contractile response of longitudinal smooth muscle strips: half-maximal effect was achieved at a concentration of 1.0 +/- 0.1 nM for canine versus 1.3 +/- 0.2 nM for the 13-norleucine analogue of porcine motilin. We conclude that porcine and canine motilin have a comparable bioactivity in the rabbit, although canine motilin is slightly more effective. The motilin receptor is probably specific for the N-terminal portion which is identical in both molecules.