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Intestinal Absorption of Macromolecules during Viral Enteritis: An Experimental Study on Rotavirus-Infected Conventional and Germ-Free Mice


Epithelial transport and degradation of horseradish peroxidase (HRP), a macromolecular tracer, was studied in conventional and germ-free suckling mice following an experimental infection with rotavirus. Conventional and germ-free mice developed diarrhea from days 2 to 8 postinfection (pi), with growth failure. In mucosal homogenates, infectious virus detected by immunofluorescence on MA 104 cells was present from day 2 through day 8 pi in germ-free mice, but persisted longer (day 13 pi) in conventional mice. Only mild histological lesions were observed during diarrhea, but obvious macrovacuolation of epithelial cells and increased cellular density occurred during the convalescence period (days 9 to 13 pi). Intact and degraded HRP fluxes from mucosa to serosa were measured in vitro on segments of jejunum mounted in Ussing chambers. Both groups of mice developed increased HRP permeability during the experimental period, but at different times after inoculation: during the diarrheal period (days 2 and 3 pi) conventional mouse epithelium absorbed five times more HRP than noninfected controls and during the convalescence period (days 9 to 13 pi) HRP absorption in germ-free mice rose 10-fold as compared to its level before infection. In both cases, this increase in HRP permeability was entirely due to an increase in intact HRP absorption, probably via a transcellular route, and occurred without any alteration in degraded HRP transport. These results indicate that in mice, rotavirus infection causes a transient rise in gut permeability to undegraded proteins. The intestinal microflora seems to affect the timing, magnitude, and duration of this increased permeability.

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