Gastro-oesophageal reflux to the proximal oesophagus may cause atypical symptoms of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD). The motor abnormalities underlying reflux into the proximal oesophagus are still unclear. The aim of this study was to analyse the oesophageal motility during reflux into the proximal oesophagus in a group of healthy subjects and in patients with atypical symptoms of GORD. We concentrated particularly on lower oesophageal sphincter (LOS) activity and transient lower oesophageal sphincter relaxations (TLOSRs). Ten patients (7M, 3F, age 25-51 years) with mild oesophagitis (Savary-Miller grade I-II) and 10 healthy subjects (6M, 4F, age 23-54 years) underwent a 24-h dual pH-metric and manometric recording, using an electronic portable device. This recorded distal and proximal oesophageal pH values, oesophageal body and LOS motility. GORD patients had more distal and proximal reflux (DR and PR) compared with healthy controls (DR P < 0.001; PR P < 0.05). TLOSRs were the most frequent event during reflux into the distal oesophagus, whereas TLOSR frequency was much lower during reflux to the proximal oesophagus in GORD patients and in healthy controls (P < 0.05 and P < 0.01 vs. distal reflux, respectively). A significant relationship between TLOSRs and distal refluxes was present but no relationship with proximal reflux was detected. We conclude that TLOSRs are much less frequent during reflux to the proximal oesophagus than distal oesophageal reflux in patients with mild GORD suffering from atypical manifestations. The mechanism of acid reflux to the proximal oesophagus is unclear.