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Surgery. 1999 May;125(5):560-9.

Surgical stress and the small intestine: role of oxygen free radicals.

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  • 1Wellcome Trust Research Laboratory, Christian Medical College and Hospital, Vellore, India.



Any surgical procedure can be associated with altered intestinal function. The mechanism involved in these changes at the cellular level during surgical stress has not been worked out. This study looked at the biochemical and functional alterations, along with ultrastructural changes, in the intestine during surgical stress in a simple rat model.


Surgical stress was induced by opening the abdominal wall and handling the intestine as during laparotomy. The effect of oxidative stress on the enterocyte and altered intestinal permeability as well as the ultrastructural changes to the mucosa were studied.


Surgical stress results in oxidative stress on enterocytes, as evidenced by increased xanthine oxidase and decreased catalase activity along with altered thiol redox status. This was associated with increased intestinal permeability and widened intercellular spaces. These changes were prominent at 60 minutes after laparotomy and returned to normal by 24 hours.


Mild intestinal handling is capable of inducing oxidative stress in enterocytes; this could be one of the mechanisms by which intestinal mucosal alterations occur during surgical stress.

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