Intestinal morphology and brush border hydrolase activities were determined along the small intestine of young adult (three months, n = 10), mature (12 months, n = 10), and senescent (29 months, n = 15) rats. The intestinal segments of the senescent rats contained higher mucosal mass and protein content (p less than 0.05) compared with the young and mature animals. A significant reduction of villus height and crypt depth (p less than 0.05) was found in the proximal intestine during aging. A 35% increase in villus height (p less than 0.05) without changes in crypt depth, was observed in the distal ileum in senescent rats. The activities of sucrase and isomaltase were significantly increased during aging in the duodenum and jejunum (p less than 0.05). Lactase and aminopeptidase activities which showed only minor changes between young and mature animals were significantly enhanced in senescent animals (p less than 0.05) with aminopeptidase exhibiting a three-fold increase in activity in the proximal ileum. The results when combined with those of previous studies suggest that in the aged animal, the increased level of intestinal hydrolase activities may be the consequence of prolonged cellular maturation along the villi in the proximal intestine, and of adaptation to increased concentrations of intraluminal substrates in the distal intestine.
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