Background/Aims The internal anal sphincter (IAS) plays an important role in maintaining continence and a number of neurotransmitters are known to regulate IAS tone. The aim of this study was to determine the relative importance of the neurotransmitters involved in the relaxant and contractile responses of the porcine IAS. Methods Responses of isolated strips of IAS to electrical field stimulation (EFS) were obtained in the absence and presence of inhibitors of neurotransmitter systems. Results Contractile responses of the sphincter to EFS were unaffected by the muscarinic receptor antagonist, atropine (1 μM), but were almost completely abolished by the adrenergic neuron blocker guanethidine (10 μM). Contractile responses were also reduced (by 45% at 5 Hz, P < 0.01) following desensitisation of purinergic receptors with a,β-methylene-ATP (10 μM). In the presence of guanethidine, atropine, and a,β-methylene-ATP, the remaining relaxatory responses to EFS were examined. These responses were not altered by the cyclooxygenase inhibitor, indomethacin (5 μM), the vasoactive intestinal polypeptide receptor antagonist, [D-p-Cl-Phe6, Leu17]- vasoactive intestinal peptide (PheLeu-VIP; 100 nM), or the purinoceptor antagonists, 8-phenyltheophyline (P1 receptors) or suramin (P2 receptors). However, relaxation responses were reduced by N?-nitro-L-arginine (L-NNA; 100 μM), an inhibitor of nitric oxide synthesis (40-50% reduction), zinc protoprophyrin IX (10 μM), an inhibitor of carbon monoxide synthesis (20-40% reduction), and also propargylglycine (30 μM) and aminooxyacetic acid (30 μM), inhibitors of hydrogen sulphide synthesis (15-20% reduction). Conclusions Stimulation of IAS efferent nerves releases excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters: noradrenaline is the predominant contractile transmitter with a smaller component from ATP, whilst 3 gases mediate relaxation responses to EFS, with the combined contributions being nitric oxide > carbon monoxide > hydrogen sulfide.