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Urokinase and the intestinal mucosa: evidence for a role in epithelial cell turnover


Background—The functions of urokinase in intestinal epithelia are unknown.

Aims—To determine the relation of urokinase expressed by intestinal epithelial cells to their position in the crypt-villus/surface axis and of mucosal urokinase activity to epithelial proliferative kinetics in the distal colon.

Methods—Urokinase expression was examined immunohistochemically in human intestinal mucosa. Urokinase activity was measured colorimetrically in epithelial cells isolated sequentially from the crypt-villus axis of the rat small intestine. In separate experiments, urokinase activity and epithelial kinetics (measured stathmokinetically) were measured in homogenates of distal colonic mucosa of 14 groups of eight rats fed diets known to alter epithelial turnover.

Results—From the crypt base, an ascending gradient of expression and activity of urokinase was associated with the epithelial cells. Median mucosal urokinase activities in each of the dietary groups of rats correlated positively with autologous median number of metaphase arrests per crypt (r=0.68; p<0.005) and per 100 crypt cells (r=0.75; p<0.001), but not with crypt column height.

Conclusions—Localisation of an enzyme capable of leading to digestion of cell substratum in the region where cells are loosely attached to their basement membrane, and the association of its activity with indexes of cell turnover, suggest a role for urokinase in facilitating epithelial cell loss in the intestine.

  • urokinase
  • intestinal epithelium
  • colon
  • epithelial proliferation

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