Structural and mechanical architecture of the intestinal villi and crypts in the rat intestine: integrative reevaluation from ultrastructural analysis

Anat Embryol (Berl). 2005 Aug;210(1):1-12. doi: 10.1007/s00429-005-0011-y. Epub 2005 Jul 26.


The ultrastructure of the rat intestinal interstitium was analyzed from the viewpoint of mechanical dynamics to stabilize the intestinal villi, crypts and mucosal folds. In the rat, the small intestine lacks circular folds, but the large intestine possesses spiral folds. The intestinal villi, the largest in the duodenum, decreased in size in the jejunum and ileum successively, and were absent in the large intestine. The intestinal interstitium consisted of lamina propria mucosae (LPM) and tela submucosa (TSM) separated by muscularis mucosae (MM), the LPM was subdivided into an upper part within the villi and a lower part among the crypts in the small intestine. The light microscopic density of interstitium in the intestinal wall was lowest in the upper LPM, moderately dense in the lower LPM and highest in the TSM, and that among the intestinal region was highest in the duodenum and decreased successively in the jejunum and ileum. In the large intestine, the TSM bulged to form spiral folds with very low density. The intestinal epithelium in the villi possessed wide intercellular spaces and that in the crypts had closed intercellular spaces. At electron microscopic level, the upper and lower LPM contained subepithelial supportive meshwork that consisted of collagen fibrils and myofibroblast processes. The lower LPM and TSM contained conspicuous bundles of collagen fibrils and, in addition, TSM contained minor populations of scattered collagen fibrils near the smooth muscle layer (SML). The diameter of collagen fibrils was the largest in the bundles of TSM, and decreased from the duodenum through the jejunum and ileum to the large intestine. On the basis of these observations, we hypothesize that the intestinal villi are mechanically stabilized by the balance between the expansive interstitial pressure and inward pull by the subepithelial supportive meshwork. This hypothesis explains the hitherto neglected fact that the intestinal epithelium possesses wide intercellular spaces only in the villi, and accounts for the counterforce against the perpendicular smooth muscle cells, which are supposed to contract the intestinal villi.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Collagen / physiology
  • Collagen / ultrastructure
  • Colon / physiology
  • Colon / ultrastructure*
  • Connective Tissue / physiology
  • Connective Tissue / ultrastructure
  • Digestion / physiology*
  • Duodenum / physiology
  • Duodenum / ultrastructure
  • Exocrine Glands / physiology
  • Exocrine Glands / ultrastructure
  • Fibroblasts / physiology
  • Fibroblasts / ultrastructure
  • Ileum / physiology
  • Ileum / ultrastructure
  • Intestinal Mucosa / physiology
  • Intestinal Mucosa / ultrastructure*
  • Intestine, Small / physiology
  • Intestine, Small / ultrastructure*
  • Jejunum / physiology
  • Jejunum / ultrastructure
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Electron, Transmission
  • Muscle, Smooth / physiology
  • Muscle, Smooth / ultrastructure
  • Myocytes, Smooth Muscle / physiology
  • Myocytes, Smooth Muscle / ultrastructure
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar


  • Collagen