Influence of saponins on gut permeability and active nutrient transport in vitro

J Nutr. 1986 Nov;116(11):2270-7. doi: 10.1093/jn/116.11.2270.


The influence of four saponins, three triterpenoid glycosides and one steroidal amine glycoside, upon intestinal transport was investigated in vitro. In the presence of Gypsophylla saponin, carrier-mediated galactose transport was inhibited, although the uptake of the passively transported L-isomer of glucose increased. The uptake of the extracellular space marker, polyethylene glycol 4000, was also higher, indicating that the saponin inhibited active transport by increasing the general permeability of the enterocytes. Gypsophylla saponin, in contact only with the mucosal surface of everted jejunal sacs, induced a rapid decline in glucose-stimulated transmural potential difference. The rate of decline increased as the saponin concentration was raised over the approximate range of 0.3 to 8 mM. Saponaria saponin and alpha-tomatine also reduced transmural potential difference, but soya saponins were much less effective. The results indicate that some saponins readily increase the permeability of the small intestinal mucosal cells, thereby inhibiting active nutrient transport, and facilitating the uptake of materials to which the gut would normally be impermeable.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Transport / drug effects
  • Cell Membrane Permeability / drug effects*
  • Electrochemistry
  • Galactose / metabolism*
  • Glucose / metabolism*
  • Glycine max
  • Intestinal Mucosa / drug effects
  • Intestinal Mucosa / metabolism*
  • Kinetics
  • Male
  • Plants / analysis
  • Polyethylene Glycols / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Strains
  • Saponins / pharmacology*
  • Tomatine / pharmacology


  • Saponins
  • Tomatine
  • Polyethylene Glycols
  • Glucose
  • Galactose