Pre-epithelial ``unstirred'' layers (abbr. pL) are generally regarded as undesirable diffusion barriers that impede access to absorptive cells of exogenous hexoses, amino acids or other experimental probes added to fluids bathing the mucosal surface. In the present paper it is suggested that the pL may have a functional role. Diffusion plus convection of saccharides and oligopeptides from lumen to brush border, combined with absorption to blood of their hydrolytic products, confers rectifying properties to the pL. The proposed model, based on experimental data from segmental jejunal perfusions in normal human subjects, indicates that the functional pathway for diffusion plus convection through the pL of hexoses and amino acids bound in the form of oligomers is only 10 ± 2 μm or little more than the anatomical thickness of the glycocalyx and mucus layers. In contrast, the pathlength from brush border to lumenal perfusion fluid for diffusion minus convection of monomers generated by membrane bound hydrolases is 50–150 μm. According to this model the pL offers little resistance to the passage of saccharides or oligopeptides from lumen to brush border but at the same time it provides a protective blanket that diminishes diffusional losses to lumenal chyme of hexoses and amino acids generated in the brush border. The model provides a theoretical explanation for the ``kinetic advantage'' of transporting hexoses or amino acids through the pL in the form of oligomers and it predicts the proximal-distal concentrations of free glucose or fructose found experimentally in the outflows from jejunal segments perfused with sucrose or maltose.
The Journal of Membrane Biology – Springer Journals
Published: Feb 1, 2001
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