Dietary proteins are degraded by both endogenous enzymes and the caecal microflora. In conventional rats the enzyme content of the pancreas depends on the amount of dietary protein. The influence of the caecal microflora on this process is unknown. We report here the effect of the caecal microflora on pancreatic enzymes (proteases, amylase (EC 3.2.1.l), lipase (EC 126.96.36.199)) and on colonic metabolites (NH3, urea, short-chain fatty acids). Germ-free and conventional male Fischer rats were fed for 3 weeks with a diet containing 220 or 450 g protein/kg provided as a mixture of fish concentrate and soyabean isolate. The excretion of NH3, and the pH were specifically increased by the high-protein diet in the germ-free rats. The higher production of isobutyrate, valerate and isovalerate in conventional rats fed on the high-protein diet reflected a high bacterial proteolytic activity since these short-chain fatty acids are specific indicators of this activity. The microflora hydrolysed urea to NH3 and maintained the pH at neutrality whatever the amount of protein in the diet since there were changes in germ-free rats but not in conventional ones. In germ-free rats, amylase, trypsin (EC 188.8.131.52), elastase (EC 184.108.40.206) and carboxypeptidase A (EC 220.127.116.11) specific activities were significantly lower than in conventional rats. The adaptation of the pancreas to the 450 g protein/kg diet was not impaired by the bacterial status except for the specific activity of chymotrypsin (EC 18.104.22.168) which was more increased by this diet in germ-free than in conventional rats. Moreover, the specific activity of lipase increased only in conventional rats fed on the 450g protein/kg diet. In conclusion, we observed a relationship between the enzyme content of the pancreas and the presence or absence of the caecal microflora suggesting that bacterial fermentation influences pancreatic function.
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