Role of villus microcirculation in intestinal absorption of glucose: coupling of epithelial with endothelial transport

J Physiol. 2003 Dec 1;553(Pt 2):561-74. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2003.043257. Epub 2003 Aug 22.


Capillaries in jejunal villi can absorb nutrients at rates several hundred times greater (per gram tissue) than capillaries in other tissues, including contracting skeletal muscle and brain. We here present an integrative hypothesis to account for these exceptionally large trans-endothelial fluxes and their relation to epithelial transport. Equations are developed for estimating concentration gradients of glucose across villus capillary walls, along paracellular channels and across subjunctional lateral membranes of absorptive cells. High concentrations of glucose discharged across lateral membranes to subjunctional intercellular spaces are delivered to abluminal surfaces of villus capillaries by convection-diffusion in intercellular channels without significant loss of concentration. Post-junctional paracellular transport thus provides the series link between epithelial and endothelial transport and makes possible the large trans-endothelial concentration gradients required for absorption to blood. Our analysis demonstrates that increases of villus capillary blood flow and permeability-surface area product (PS) are essential components of absorptive mechanisms: epithelial transport of normal digestive loads could not be sustained without concomitant increases in capillary blood flow and PS. The low rates of intestinal absorption found in anaesthetised animals may be attributed to inhibition of normal villus microvascular responses to epithelial transport.

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Amino Acids / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Basement Membrane / metabolism
  • Biological Transport / physiology
  • Blood Flow Velocity / physiology
  • Blood Glucose / metabolism
  • Capillary Permeability / physiology
  • Carbohydrate Metabolism
  • Cricetinae
  • Diffusion
  • Endothelium, Vascular / physiology*
  • Enterocytes / physiology*
  • Enterocytes / ultrastructure
  • Extracellular Space / metabolism
  • Extracellular Space / physiology
  • Glucose / metabolism*
  • Glucose Transporter Type 2
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Absorption / physiology*
  • Jejunum / blood supply
  • Jejunum / cytology
  • Jejunum / physiology
  • Microcirculation / physiology
  • Microvilli / metabolism
  • Models, Biological
  • Monosaccharide Transport Proteins / physiology
  • Rats
  • Surface Properties


  • Amino Acids
  • Blood Glucose
  • Glucose Transporter Type 2
  • Monosaccharide Transport Proteins
  • Glucose