We studied the opossum sphincter of Oddi (SO) because in this species the SO is ~3 cm in length and its extraduodenal location permits recording of motor activity with negligible interference from duodenal motor activity. The SO segment of 120 animals was evaluated by one or more of the following: (a) intraluminal manometry; (b) electromyography; (c) common bile duct (CBD) flow monitored by a drop counter; (d) cineradiography of intraductal contrast medium; and (e) histologic examination. SO pull-throughs using an infused catheter of 0.6-mm o.d. invariably showed a high pressure zone (HPZ) of 18 ± 3 SE mm Hg in the terminal 4-5 mm of the SO segment. This HPZ had a narrow lumen, 0.5-0.7 mm in diam, and the prominent circular muscle. The HPZ in the terminal SO had both active and passive components. HPZ with minimal amplitude and a paucity of underlying smooth muscle were present inconstantly at the junction of the SO segment with the CBD and pancreatic duct, respectively. The dominant feature of the SO segment was rhythmic peristaltic contractions that originated in the proximal SO and propagated toward the duodenum. These contractions occurred spontaneously at a rate of 2-8/min, ranged up to 200 mm Hg in magnitude, had a duration of ~5 s and were not abolished by tetrodotoxin. Concurrent myoelectric and manometric recordings showed that each phasic contraction was immediately preceded by an electrical spike burst. Simultaneous recordings of cineradiography, CBD inflow of contrast medium, SO manometry, and SO electromyography indicated that rhythmic peristaltic contractions stripped contrast medium from the SO into the duodenum. During SO systole, CBD emptying was transiently interrupted whereas SO filling occurred during the diastolic interval between SO peristaltic contractions. SO distention increased the frequency of SO peristalsis. We conclude that (a) the dominant feature of the opossum SO is rhythmic peristaltic contractions that originate in the proximal SO and propagate toward the duodenum; (b) these forceful SO peristaltic contractions are myogenic in origin and serve as a peristaltic pump that actively empties the SO segment; (c) CBD outflow occurs passively during SO diastole, but is interrupted transiently during each SO peristaltic contraction; and (d) a short HPZ with active as well as passive components exists in the distal SO segment and acts as a variable resistor to SO outflow.