Histochemical studies have shown a relative depletion of colonic sulphated mucins (sulphomucins) in active ulcerative colitis. One possible explanation for this could be desulphation by bacterial sulphatases. Studies have therefore been done to determine whether normal faeces contain sulphatase and if so to determine whether this activity is increased in ulcerative colitis. Using a fluorimetric assay considerable sulphatase activity (greater than 0.3 IU/g pellet weight) was found in bacteria free filtrates of the homogenates of nine of 17 faecal samples from healthy controls. This sulphatase activity had an alkaline pH optimum (pH 8.5-9.5). A similar range of faecal sulphatase activity with a similar pH optimum was found in samples from patients with ulcerative colitis (n = 39) and Crohn's disease (n = 17) and there was no correlation with disease activity in either disease. This faecal sulphatase activity may be involved in the degradation of colonic mucus and merits further study but these findings do not explain the relative depletion of colonic mucosal sulphomucins in ulcerative colitis.
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