The effects of benzodiazepine withdrawal on intestinal motor activity and propulsion were investigated in two groups of diazepam-dependent rats (15 mg/kg/day for 8 days). Withdrawal was precipitated by injection of two benzodiazepine antagonists (Ro 15.1788 and PK 11.95) acting on central and peripheral-type receptors, respectively. Intestinal motor activity was assessed by implanting electrodes for long-term electromyographic recordings. Gastrointestinal transit was evaluated after gavage by a marker (51CrO4Na2) and radioactivity counting. Both RO 15.1788 (15 mg/kg) and PK 11.195 (5 mg/kg) triggered an abstinence syndrome with behavioral and autonomic signs. At the intestinal level, Ro 15.1788 induced a phase of strong irregular spiking activity (173 +/- 63 min) which remained located in the duodenum. In contrast, PK 11.195 induced a period of propagated myoelectric complexes characterized by phases II and III of high amplitude. The cecal frequency was doubled during the 1st hr after withdrawal induced by the two antagonists. Both Ro 15.1788 and PK 11.195 at this dosage had no effect per se on intestinal motility in vehicle-treated rats. In the second group of rats, gastric emptying was enhanced by 49.4 and 45.6% by Ro 15.1788 and PK 11.195, respectively. In contrast, PK 11.195 was able to accelerate the intestinal transit more than did Ro 15.1788 (geometric center, 5.9 +/- 0.43 and 5.3 +/- 0.49, respectively, vs. 4.1 +/- 0.31 in control rats). Our study shows that precipitated benzodiazepine withdrawal in diazepam-dependent rats induces alterations of the intestinal myoelectrical activity leading to an increase of the gastrointestinal transit. Central and peripheral-type receptors are involved in these effects.