The surface pH of rat distal colonic mucosa and human rectal mucosa was measured in vitro using first a small pH electrode with a flattened tip. In buffer with pH 7.56 the mean rat colonic surface pH was 6.72. Lowering the buffer pH in steps resulted in a small fall in surface pH, the values being buffer pH 7.06 surface pH 6.64, buffer pH 6.58 surface pH 6.61 and finally buffer pH 6.09 surface pH 6.39. Similar results were obtained with a buffer where butyrate, 30 mmol/l replaced chloride and when a CO2/bicarbonate buffer was used. During the time taken for the study transmural potential difference only changed by 1-2 mV. Serosal surface pH changed with buffer pH, suggesting that the maintained surface pH is a property of the mucosal surface only. The surface pH of human rectal mucosa was similar to that of rat distal colonic mucosa. As buffer pH fell from pH 7.51 to 5.96 mucosal surface pH only fell from pH 6.80 to 6.26. The values obtained in ulcerative proctitis did not differ from normal mucosa. Secondly pH microelectrodes were used to measure the juxta mucosal pH and the pH-microclimate thickness when luminal pH was controlled. The microclimate had a pH 6.63 adjacent to the mucosa with a thickness of 840 micron. The importance of mucus in maintaining the microclimate was shown by n-acetyl cysteine thinning and prostaglandin E2 thickening the layer. These results describe a surface microclimate in the large intestine of appreciable thickness and a constant juxta mucosal pH. Luminal pH changes produce only a small change in microclimate pH.
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