Using an electrical technique for measuring transjejunal potential differences (PDs) in conscious man, we have estimated the electrogenic absorption of the hexoses liberated by hydrolysis of lactose which was infused into the jejunum of one normal control and 21 patients with diarrhoea. The results were compared with jejunal lactase levels determined from biopsy specimens taken from the recording site immediately after infusion. The PD evoked by 100 mM lactose was very significantly lower in patients with lactase levels below 4 units (lactase deficient) compared with subjects with normal lactase levels. There was also a significant correlation (r = 0.87, P less than 0.005) between the magnitude of the lactose potential (expressed as the ratio of the maximum glucose transfer potential) and the mucosal lactase level in the hypolactasic subjects but not in patients with normal lactase levels. Thus, in the subjects with lactase deficiency, the electrogenic transfer of hexose is clearly limited by the rate of lactose hydrolysis. Unlike other assessments of functional lactase activity, the electrical test provides a specific index of jejunal function and, moreover, can be adapted to investigate the possible disorders of small intestinal motility and secretion associated with hypolactasia.
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