Cell proliferation was examined in the gastrointestinal tract of 30 pair fed rats having received an isocaloric liquid diet containing 36% of total calories either as ethanol or carbohydrates for four weeks. Utilising the metaphase arrest technique with vincristine, cell proliferation was measured as crypt cell production rate. This was selectively increased in the rectal mucosa of ethanol fed rats (19.1 +/- 2.0 vs 9.1 +/- 1.8 cells/crypt/h; p less than 0.005). There was a concomitant increase in proliferative compartment size (48.1 +/- 5.6% vs 30.1 +/- 8.5% of crypt population size; p less than 0.001). Serum gastrin concentrations were also found to be significantly increased after ethanol feeding (172 +/- 51 vs 106 +/- 27 pmol/l; p less than 0.01). The ethanol dependent proliferative changes in the rectal mucosa are predictive of higher susceptibility of this site to carcinogenesis, supporting experimental and epidemiological data. Increased gastrin concentrations may partly explain the observed rectal hyperproliferation. Other possible causes cannot, however, be excluded.
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