To determine if and how clonidine and tricyclic antidepressants affect gastric contractility. Guinea pig fundic and antral circular muscle strips were studied in vitro. The effects of clonidine or amitriptyline added in graded concentrations on contractions to electric field stimulation (EFS), acetylcholine (ACh), and SP in the presence of N(epsilon)-nitro-l-arginine methyl ester (l-NAME) were studied. EFS produced frequency dependent contractions of fundic and antral muscle that were abolished by atropine or tetrodotoxin (TTX). ACh contractions were abolished by atropine but not TTX. Clonidine reduced contractile response to EFS but had no effect on ACh contractions. The threshold concentration of clonidine to inhibit EFS contractions was lower in the fundus than in the antrum. Amitriptyline reduced contractions to both EFS and ACh but not to SP. The threshold concentration of amitriptyline to inhibit EFS contractions was lower in the antrum than in the fundus. Both clonidine and amitriptyline affect gastric contractility. At threshold concentrations, clonidine affects fundic contractility whereas amitriptyline affects antral contractility. Clonidine affects gastric contractility in response to EFS but not to ACh, suggesting alpha-2 receptors on cholinergic nerves that reduce ACh release. Amitriptyline inhibits gastric contractility to EFS and ACh suggesting an inhibitory muscle effect.