Small intestinal samples were obtained by intubation from multiple sites along the small intestine in 11 subjects with no known gastrointestinal disease eating a normal diet and at laparotomy in a further three subjects. Free (unconjugated) bile acids were consistently demonstrated in ileal samples, and occasionally in lower jejunal samples, by thin-layer chromatography, supplemented in some cases by gas/liquid chromatography and by infrared spectroscopy. The free bile acid concentration, measured enzymically following thin-layer chromatography, reached a maximum (1 mM) in the lower ileum, where it represented half the total bile acid concentration. Following ampicillin, the concentration of free bile acids decreased markedly, suggesting that they resulted from bacterial deconjugation; at the same time the total bile acid concentration increased, suggesting impaired absorption due to the reduced concentration of the more rapidly absorbed free bile acids. Our results indicate that the presence of free bile acids in lower jejunal and ileal samples is a normal finding, and cannot be taken as evidence of abnormal bacterial overgrowth. They also suggest that bacterial deconjugation at these sites may be a factor contributing to the remarkable efficiency of bile salt reabsorption.
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