1. The effect of pectin on the structure and function of the rat small intestine was compared with that of a standard pellet diet and of a fibre-free basal diet.
2. The length and wet weight of the small bowel was significantly greater inpect in-fed rats than in either pellet- or basal-diet-fed rats.
3. Histological measurements of longitudinal sections from the small bowel showed a significantly greater crypt depth and muscle layer thickness in the mid-jejunum and ileum of the pectin fed rats. Villous height showed less variation.
4. The specific activity of alkaline phosphatase (EC 18.104.22.168)and leucyl-P-naphthylamidase (EC 22.214.171.124) in mucosal scrapings was significantly lower in the upper jejunum of pectin-fed rats compared with either of the other dietary groups. The differences were not so marked in mid-jejunum or ileum.
5. Glucose absorption measured in vivo from jejunal and ileal loops was similar in all three dietary groups.
6. With two minor exceptions there were no significant differences in any of these measurements between the pellet- and basal-diet-fed rats.
7. These findings could be explained by increased epithelial cell turnover caused by pectin. The possible mechanisms of this are discussed.
8. The effect of pectin on the human small bowel requires study before it can be widely prescribed in man.