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Am J Physiol. 1998 Nov;275(5 Pt 1):G1037-44.

Stress stimulates transepithelial macromolecular uptake in rat jejunum.

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Intestinal Disease Research Program, Faculty of Health Sciences, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada L8N 3Z5.


Evidence suggests that stress may be a contributing factor in intestinal inflammatory disease; however, the involved mechanisms have not been elucidated. We previously reported that acute stress alters epithelial physiology of rat intestine. In this study, we documented stress-induced macromolecular transport across intestinal epithelium. After exposure of Wistar-Kyoto rats to acute restraint stress, transport of a model protein, horseradish peroxidase (HRP), was assessed in isolated segments of jejunum. The flux of intact HRP was significantly enhanced across intestine from stressed rats compared with controls. Electron microscopy revealed HRP-containing endosomes within enterocytes, goblet cells, and Paneth cells of stressed rats. The number and area of HRP endosomes within enterocytes were found to be significantly increased by stress. HRP was also visualized in paracellular spaces between adjacent epithelial cells only in intestine from stressed rats. Atropine treatment of rats prevented the stress-induced abnormalities of protein transport. Our results suggest that stress, via a mechanism that involves release of acetylcholine, causes epithelial dysfunction that includes enhanced uptake of macromolecular protein antigens. We speculate that immune reactions to such foreign proteins may initiate or exacerbate inflammation.

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