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Scand J Gastroenterol. 1997 Jun;32(6):556-63.

Luminal bacteria and small-intestinal permeability.

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Dept. of Gastroenterology, Prince of Wales Hospital, Sydney, Australia.



The influence of luminal bacteria on small-intestinal permeability has not been fully assessed. This study addressed this issue.


Thirty-four subjects (mean age 64 years; range 22-95 years) were investigated for possible small-intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) with culture of a small-intestinal aspirate. A lactulose/mannitol small-intestinal permeability test was performed, small-intestinal histology assessed and serum vitamin B12 concentrations measured in all subjects. Permeability was also assessed in a control group of 34 asymptomatic volunteers.


Urinary lactulose/mannitol ratios were significantly increased in subjects with SIBO with colonic-type flora (P < 0.0005), even in the absence of villous atrophy. Urinary lactulose/mannitol ratios were increased in this group due to significantly increased urinary lactulose concentrations (P < 0.0005) rather than reduced urinary mannitol levels, after correcting for inter-subject variations in renal function. Counts of intraepithelial lymphocytes of CD8 phenotype were significantly increased in this group (P = 0.003). Although a significant correlation was found between intraepithelial lymphocyte counts and small-intestinal permeability overall (P < 0.002), these counts were not significantly different in subjects with SIBO with colonic-type flora whose permeability values were < or = > 0.028, the upper limit of normal in asymptomatic controls. Serum vitamin B12 concentrations did not differ significantly between groups (P > 0.5). Ageing did not independently influence small-intestinal permeability (P > 0.5).


Small-intestinal permeability is increased in subjects with SIBO with colonic-type bacteria. This effect is independent of ageing and not mediated by vitamin B12 deficiency. Although counts of intraepithelial lymphocytes of CD8 phenotype are increased in this disorder, it is also unlikely that these cells play an important causative role in this process. Routine light microscopic assessment underestimates the prevalence of small-intestinal functional disturbance in this disorder.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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