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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1995 Apr 11;92(8):3303-7.

Extracellular pH regulation in microdomains of colonic crypts: effects of short-chain fatty acids.

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Division of Gastroenterology, Department of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD 21205, USA.


It has been suggested that transepithelial gradients of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs; the major anions in the colonic lumen) generate pH gradients across the colonic epithelium. Quantitative confocal microscopy was used to study extracellular pH in mouse distal colon with intact epithelial architecture, by superfusing tissue with carboxy SNARF-1 (a pH-sensitive fluorescent dye). Results demonstrate extracellular pH regulation in two separate microdomains surrounding colonic crypts: the crypt lumen and the subepithelial tissue adjacent to crypt colonocytes. Apical superfusion with (i) a poorly metabolized SCFA (isobutyrate), (ii) an avidly metabolized SCFA (n-butyrate), or (iii) a physiologic mixture of acetate/propionate/n-butyrate produced similar results: alkalinization of the crypt lumen and acidification of subepithelial tissue. Effects were (i) dependent on the presence and orientation of a transepithelial SCFA gradient, (ii) not observed with gluconate substitution, and (iii) required activation of sustained vectorial acid/base transport by SCFAs. Results suggest that the crypt lumen functions as a pH microdomain due to slow mixing with bulk superfusates and that crypts contribute significant buffering capacity to the lumen. In conclusion, physiologic SCFA gradients cause polarized extracellular pH regulation because epithelial architecture and vectorial transport synergize to establish regulated microenvironments.

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