The intestinal unstirred layer: Its surface area and effect on active transport kinetics

Frederick A. Wilson, John M. Dietschy

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Uptake into the intestinal mucosa is determined by the rates of penetration of solute molecules across the unstirred water layer and lipid cell membrane of the mucosal cell. The presence of the unstirred water layer results in artifactually low permeability coefficients for passive transport processes and high Km values for active transport processes. Appropriate correction for this unstirred layer resistance requires knowledge of the effective surface area of the diffusion barrier in the intestine. Using three separate experimental and mathematical approaches this surface area was found to vary from 1.02 cm2 to 14.24 cm2 per 100 mg dry weight of rat intestine. These values are very much lower than the 1226 cm2 and 696 cm2 per 100 mg area of the microvillus membrane in the jejunum and ileum, respectively, and indicates that the effective surface area of the rate-limiting membrane for such highly permeant solutes as long-chain fatty acids is from 1 100 to 1 200 the actual anatomical surface area. These studies also demonstrate that the presence of the unstirred layer introduces major artifacts into the determination of Km and Jmax (maximal transport rate) values for active transport processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)112-126
Number of pages15
JournalBBA - Biomembranes
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Aug 21 1974


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Biophysics
  • Cell Biology
  • Medicine(all)

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