The morphological changes in the intestinal tunica muscularis induced by prolonged dietary fiber intake were determined in rat small intestine and colon with the aid of computerized image analysis. Thirty male Sprague-Dawley rats were fed either a fiber free, 15% cellulose or 15% pectin diet for 8 weeks. Intestine length was measured and stained cross sections of the jejunum, ileum, and colon were quantitated using image analysis. In the distal colon, muscle cell size was also determined. Despite lower weight gain in the pectin fed rats, both the small intestine and colon length were significantly increased. Cellulose feeding had a lesser effect on intestine length. Pectin fed rats had significantly increased relative tunica muscularis area (37.2 +/- 2.2 mm2) in ileum cross sections when compared to control (24.3 +/- 1.8 mm2) and cellulose fed rats (26.1 +/- 1.1 mm2). In the mid-colon, the tunica muscularis area was found to be pectin > cellulose > control (33.5 +/- 2.2; 29.7 +/- 1.7; 25.8 +/- 1.5 respectively) with significant differences reached between pectin and control rats. In jejunal samples, no differences were observed among the groups. Circular smooth muscle cell size in the distal colon was significantly increased following cellulose feeding but was less pronounced in the case of pectin. We conclude that fiber supplementation leads to morphological changes in the rat intestine including changes in length and tunica muscularis volume.