- BACKGROUND: Anesthetics are commonly applied in animal studies of gastrointestinal (GI) function. Different anesthetics alter smooth-muscle motility in different ways. The aim of this study is to quantify and compare non-invasively with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) the motility patterns of the rat gut when anesthetized with inactin vs isoflurane anesthetics in the fed state. METHODS: Rats were given an oral gavage of MRI contrast agent for improved visualization of the GI tract. Two-dimensional images through the jejunum of the pre- and postanesthetized rat in the fed state were acquired every 168 ms. Image registration, segmentation, and postprocessing algorithms were applied to produce spatio-temporal maps that were used to quantify peristaltic and segmental motions in the jejunum region interspersed between periods of inactivity. KEY RESULTS: There were significantly longer periods of inactivity in the rats treated with isoflurane than in those treated with inactin (179.9 ± 22.4 s vs 17.7 ± 10.3 s). The speed of propagation and wavelength of peristalsis, and the frequency and speed of pattern switching of segmental motility, were higher (p < 0.05) in rats treated with inactin. CONCLUSIONS & INFERENCES: Isoflurane and inactin anesthetics produce significantly different motility behavior with the rat's GI tract in the fed state. Isoflurane anesthetic, results in a reduced frequency of occurrence of motility periods and an overall reduced level of motility in comparison with inactin.