The relationship between lactose hydrolysis and absorption of released glucose was investigated by determining the kinetics of lactose digestion by jejunal biopsies incubated in vitro. Lactase activity in intact biopsies correlated with conventional assay of tissue homogenates (r = 0.85, p less than 0.001), and glucose uptake from 28 mM lactose was directly proportional to lactase activity (r = 0.95, p less than 0.001) in 21 subjects with normal lactase levels, six with hypolactasia (primary or secondary to coeliac disease) and two with lactose intolerance but normal lactase activity. Kinetic analysis at 0.56-56 mM lactose in five normal subjects showed saturable kinetics for hydrolysis (app Km = 33.9 +/- 2.2 mM; app Vmax = 26.5 +/- 1.1 nmol/min/mg dry weight) but glucose uptake could be fitted to a model either of saturable uptake (app Kt = 47.2 +/- 0.3 mM; app Jmax = 14.1 +/- 0.2 nmol/min/mg) or saturable uptake plus a linear component (app Kt = 21.3 +/- 1.15; app Jmax = 4.59 +/- 0.12; app Kd = 0.093 +/- 0.010 nmol/min/mg/mM). The proportion of glucose taken into the tissue did not significantly exceed 50% of the total released at any lactose concentration suggesting the lack of an efficient capture mechanism for the released glucose. The results suggest that lactose hydrolysis is the rate limiting step in the overall absorption of glucose from lactose in vitro, and that the relationship between hydrolysis and absorption is the same in normal subjects and in hypolactasic subjects.
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