Guanylin, structurally related to the heat-stable enterotoxin of E. coli, is a 15-amino-acid peptide isolated from rat small intestine. We investigated the morphological effects of an intravenous injection of rat and human guanylin upon the rat intestine. Various doses of rat guanylin were injected intravenously in anesthetized rats. After 5, 10 and 30 min, rats were killed by intracardiac perfusion with aldehyde fixative, and specimens of the intestine were then prepared for light and electron microscopy. Intravenously injected rat guanylin rapidly induced mucus secretion from crypt goblet cells in the duodenum. About half of the crypt goblet cells secreted mucous granules by compound exocytosis within 5 min. The villus goblet cells, in contrast, were not sensitive to guanylin. Goblet cells in the jejunum were less responsive than those in the duodenum. This secretory response was rare in the ileum and colon. Human guanylin produced similar results. The mucus secretion induced by guanylin was inhibited by a prior-injection of atropine, but not hexamethonium. Moreover, guanylin induced intense edema in the mucosa and submucosa of the small intestine 5 min after the injection, which disappeared after 30 min. A prior-injection of atropine did not block the appearance of edema. In conclusion, the intravenous injection of guanylin induces two phenomena related to water movement: (1) compound exocytosis of mucous granules from crypt goblet cells in the rat duodenum and jejunum; (2) perineural, inter-epithelial and intra-epithelial edema in the rat small intestine.