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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1995 Dec 5;92(25):11573-7.

An apical permeability barrier to NH3/NH4+ in isolated, perfused colonic crypts.

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Department of Medicine, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT 06510, USA.


Fermentation of nonabsorbed nutrients in the colon generates high concentrations of NH3/NH4+ in the colonic lumen. NH3 is a small, lipophilic neutral weak base that readily permeates almost all cell membranes, whereas its conjugate weak acid NH4+ generally crosses membranes much more slowly. It is not known how colonocytes maintain intracellular pH in the unusual acid-base environment of the colon, where permeant acid-base products of fermentation exist in high concentration. To address this issue, we hand dissected and perfused single, isolated crypts from rabbit proximal colon, adapting techniques from renal-tubule microperfusion. Crypt perfusion permits control of solutions at the apical (luminal) and basolateral (serosal) surfaces of crypt cells. We assessed apical- vs. basolateral-membrane transport of NH3/NH4+ by using fluorescent dyes and digital imaging to monitor intracellular pH of microvacuolated crypt cells as well as luminal pH. We found that, although the basolateral membranes have normal NH3/NH4+ permeability properties, there is no evidence for transport of either NH3 or NH4+ across the apical borders of these crypt cells. Disaggregating luminal mucus did not increase the transport of NH3/NH4+ across the apical border. We conclude that, compared to the basolateral membrane, the apical border of crypt colonocytes has a very low permeability-area product for NH3/NH4+. This barrier may represent an important adaptation for the survival of crypt cells in the environment of the colon.

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