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Equine Vet J Suppl. 1997 Jun;(24):40-50.

Systemic and luminal influences on the perinatal development of the gut.

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Department of Anatomy and Histology, University of Adelaide, South Australia.


At birth, the mammalian gastrointestinal tract (GIT) must be able to support a shift from mainly parenteral nutrition in the fetus (via the placenta) to enteral nutrition in the neonate. In the perinatal period the GIT therefore undergoes enhanced growth as well as morphological and functional differentiation, and this maturational programme is influenced by a complex interplay of local, systemic and luminal factors. This review shows how systemic and luminal factors may influence GIT development in the perinatal period of the pig and sheep, two long-gestation species. Adrenocortical hormones play a pivotal role in the prepartum maturation of the GIT in addition to their better known effects on the development of many other tissues and body systems. More particularly, in the fetal pig and sheep, the prenatal development of gastric acid and gastrin secretion, and of GIT hydrolase activities (chymosin, pepsin, amylase, lactase, aminopeptidases) is influenced by cortisol. Additionally, glucocorticoids exert effects throughout the GIT by influencing morphological, cytological, and functional differentiation. Since the GIT epithelial cells comprise a renewing cell population there are also changes in cell kinetics. In addition to systemic factors, the presence of growth factors, hormones and nutrients from swallowed amniotic fluid (fetus) and colostrum (neonate) may influence GIT development. In utero, fetal fluid ingestion has been shown to modulate tissue growth, macromolecule and immunoglobulin transport, enterocyte differentiation, cell turnover and activity of brush-border hydrolases. These effects may be mediated via regulatory peptides (e.g. insulin-like growth factor I, gastrin-releasing peptides, insulin, epidermal growth factor, gastrin). A physiological role of luminally derived growth factors is supported by a number of unique structural and functional adaptations of the GIT in the fetus and neonate (low luminal proteolysis, intestinal macromolecule transport). Thus, in the pig and sheep, both systemic and luminal factors appear to play critical roles in GIT development in the perinatal period.

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