The amount and type of dietary fibre ingested influences colonic luminal characteristics, especially the concentration of carbohydrate fermentation products such as butyrate. This study aimed to assess whether diets supplemented with fibres of differing fermentability (delivering different amounts of butyrate to the colon) influence mucosal activities of urokinase and brush border hydrolases, and epithelial turnover. Groups of five rats were fed one of four diets containing low (2%), highly fermented (guar 10% or oat bran 10%) or slowly fermented fibre (wheat bran 10%) for 4 weeks. Activities of urokinase, alkaline phosphatase, dipeptidyl peptidase IV and maltase were measured in mucosal homogenates of proximal and distal colon and from rectum. Proliferative kinetics were assessed in distal and proximal colon by the metaphase arrest technique. Hydrolase activities were similar across all four dietary groups but a significant difference was found for urokinase (P = 0.014). This was due to a reduction in urokinase activities of > 30% at the three sites in the wheat bran group compared with the other groups. Of proliferative indices, only crypt column height differed across the groups (P = 0.038) and was highest in rats fed wheat bran and lowest in those fed the low fibre diet (P = 0.047). The proportion of mitoses in the top one-fifth of the crypt also differed across groups (P = 0.038) due to the high values in the distal colon of the low fibre group. Thus, addition of a slowly fermented (but not highly fermented) fibre to the diet of rats reduces net urokinase activity in large bowel mucosa and increases the life span of colonic epithelial cells without changing activities of brush border hydrolases.