The roles of extracellular and intracellular mechanisms in the degradation of brush border proteins have been investigated by studying the small intestinal mucosa of dogs with naturally occurring exocrine pancreatic insufficiency. Peroral jejunal biopsies were homogenised and the organelles separated by isopycnic centrifugation on continuous sucrose density gradients. The distributions of marker enzymes for the principal subcellular organelles were determined in the gradients and related to the specific activities in the homogenates. There were increased activities of the brush border carbohydrases zinc-resistant α-glucosidase, maltase and sucrase in the pancreatic insufficient animals, but no change in lactase activity. The activity of γ-glutamyl transferase was also higher in the affected group; the activities of two other brush border enzymes, alkaline phosphatase and leucyl-β-naphthylamidase, however, were unaltered. These findings with an increase in the modal density of the brush border from 1·20 to 1·22 are consistent with an enhanced glycoprotein content of the microvillus membrane. There were also rises in the activities of lysosomal enzymes. N-Acetyl-β-glucosaminidase activity was increased in the soluble fractions and the percentage latent enzyme activity was reduced, findings indicative of an increased fragility of the lysosomal membrane. There were no marked alterations in the activities or density gradient distributions of marker enzymes for the other organelles, stressing the specificity of the changes in the brush borders and lysosomes. These findings are compatible with the degradation of certain exposed brush border proteins by pancreatic proteases and suggest that when this is defective, intracellular degradative mechanisms may be stimulated.
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