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J Comp Physiol B. 1993;163(6):508-18.

Ontogenesis of intestine morphology and intestinal disaccharidases in chickens (Gallus gallus) fed contrasting purified diets.

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Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University, NJ 08544-1003.


Two groups of growing posthatching Cornish x Rock cross chickens were fed with either a carbohydrate-containing (52.5%) or a carbohydrate-free diet. At 36 days after hatching some of the chicks in each group were shifted to the opposite diet. Chickens fed on a carbohydrate-containing diet grew faster and achieved higher asymptotic masses than chickens fed on a carbohydrate-free diet. Chickens fed on a carbohydrate-free diet had longer intestines and larger intestinal areas than chickens of the same mass fed on a carbohydrate-containing diet. In both groups sucrase and maltase activity (standardized by either intestinal area or mass) increased from day 1 to approximately day 17. After day 17, chickens fed on a carbohydrate-containing diet exhibited 1.8 and 1.9 times higher sucrase and maltase activities per unit intestinal area, respectively, than chickens fed on a carbohydrate-free diet. Analysis of covariance was used to estimate the contribution of sucrase and the sucrase-independent maltases to maltase activity, and to estimate the effect of diet on the sucrase-independent maltases. Sucrase contributed 80% and 75% of the maltase activity in carbohydrate and carbohydrate-free fed chickens, respectively. Chickens shifted from a carbohydrate-free to a carbohydrate diet converged in gross intestinal morphology and intestinal sucrase and maltase levels with carbohydrate-fed chickens within 8 days. Chickens shifted from carbohydrate to carbohydrate-free diets, in contrast, did not show appreciable changes in intestinal length and after 8 days had not reduced levels of sucrase and maltase to those of chickens fed on the carbohydrate-free diet. A comparison of integrated maltase intestinal activity with published data on glucose uptake showed that the ratio of maltose hydrolysis to glucose uptake seemed to be about 7 and to remain relatively invariant during ontogeny. Because so little is known about the interaction between hydrolysis and uptake in vivo, it is difficult to determine if this relatively high ratio represents excess hydrolytic capacity or if it is needed to provide high lumenal glucose concentrations that maximize uptake.

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