For over 100 years it was believed that dietary protein must be completely hydrolysed before its constituent amino acids could be absorbed via specific amino acid transport systems. It is now known that the uptake of di- and tripeptides into the enterocyte is considerable, being transported across the intestinal endothelium by the PepT1 H+/peptide co-transporter. There is also evidence that some di- and tripeptides may survive cytosolic hydrolysis and be transported intact across the basolateral membrane. However, other than antigen sampling, the transport of larger intact macromolecules across the intestinal endothelium of the healthy adult human remains a controversial issue as there is little unequivocal in vivo evidence to support this postulation. The aim of the present review was to critically evaluate the scientific evidence that peptides/proteins are absorbed by healthy intestinal epithelia and pass intact into the hepatic portal system. The question of the absorption of oliogopeptides is paramount to the emerging science of food-derived bioactive peptides, their mode of action and physiological effects. Overall, we conclude that there is little unequivocal evidence that dietary bioactive peptides, other than di- and tripeptides, can cross the gut wall intact and enter the hepatic portal system in physiologically relevant concentrations.
Keywords: Absorption; Bioactive peptides; Gastrointestinal tract; Lactotripeptides; Opioids; PepT1 H+/peptide co-transporter.