Abnormal permeability to polyethylene glycol 400 (PEG 400) has been demonstrated in various disorders with defective intestinal barrier functions. To understan the basic mechanisms of PEG 400 permeability, we compared PEG 400 permeation in different segments of the intestine and studied the kinetics and influence of intraluminal factors on PEG 400 absorption in vivo in perfused intestinal segments of the rat. The permeation rate of PEG 400 was dependent on the luminal concentration (y = 12.99x + 3.5; r = 0.97), indicating that passive movement is the mechanism involved in PEG 400 absorption. Changing the perfusate pH from 6 to 7.4 or modifying the unstirred water layer resistance by changing luminal flow rate did not affect PEG 400 absorption. When luminal osmolarity was varied from 0.225 to 0.6 osmol/L, higher osmolarity decreased both water and PEG 400 absorption (p > 0.01). The relationship between PEG 400 and water absorption at different osmolarities was linear (y = 0.9x + 5.7; r = 0.98). At a luminal osmolarity of 0.3 osmol/L 43% of PEG 400 permeation was mediated by passive diffusion and 57% was mediated by solvent drag. Increasing water absorption by decreasing luminal osmolarity resulted in proportional increase of PEG 400 permeation through solvent drag or convection. The solvent drag reflection coefficient (σf) for PEG 400 permeation of the jejunum was 0.1. Taurocholic acid (10 mM) alone or with oleic acid (2.5 mM) did not affect PEG 400 absorption. Permeabilities of 1 mM PEG 400 and water were similar in jejunum and ileum but were markedly increased in the colon (p > 0.01). These studies demonstrate that PEG 400 is absorbed by both passive diffusion and by solvent drag, with the latter accounting for a greater fraction of the absorptive drive under normal conditions. Polyethylene glycol 400 uses aqueous pathways for its permeation across the intestinal epithelium.
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