Substantial amounts of phenols are produced in the human colon by bacterial fermentation of protein. In the colonic mucosa of animals, phenols are inactivated predominantly by conjugation with sulphate. The purpose of this study was to confirm sulphation of phenols by isolated colonocytes from man and to evaluate mucosal sulphation in inflammatory bowel disease using the phenol, paracetamol, in rectal dialysis bags. The incubation of paracetamol with colonocytes isolated from resected colon specimens (n = 7) yielded a mean (SE) value of 7.0 (0.9) mumols/g dry weight of paracetamol sulphate after 60 minutes but virtually undetectable values of paracetamol glucuronide. Paracetamol sulphate was detected in rectal dialysates from all control subjects, with a mean (SE) value of 4.2 (0.8) nmol/hour. Sulphation was significantly impaired (p less than 0.01) in 19 patients with active ulcerative colitis (0.6 (0.2) nmol/hour) and in 17 patients with ulcerative colitis in remission (1.1 (0.4) nmol/hour). Sulphation in eight patients with Crohn's colitis (4.3 (2.1) nmol/hour) was similar to that in control subjects. Impairment of the capacity of the mucosa to sulphate phenols in quiescent and active ulcerative colitis may pose a metabolic burden on colonic epithelial cells, which are continuously exposed to endogenous phenols from the colonic lumen.
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