Background/aims: Epidermal growth factor (EGF) is present in gastric juice and has potent mitogenic properties. The stability of EGF in gastric juice under various physiological and pathophysiological conditions was examined.
Methods: Recombinant human EGF1-53 was incubated with HCl containing pepsin. We also determined the forms of EGF present in the gastric juice of patients under basal conditions, patients taking the acid suppressant omeprazole, patients with achlorhydria, and volunteers undergoing intragastric neutralization with NaHCO3 (n = 6 per group). Samples were analyzed using mass spectroscopy and/or high-pressure liquid chromatography followed by radioimmunoassay. The effect of acid and pepsin digestion on EGF bioactivity was determined using an in vitro hepatocyte bioassay and an in vivo cytoprotection assay in the rat stomach.
Results: EGF1-53 was digested to the EGF1-49 and EGF1-46 forms in all samples containing pepsin when the pH was < 4. In gastric juice samples with pH > 4, the proportion of intact EGF increased to about 60%. For both methods of bioassay, intact EGF1-53 was about 3-4 times as potent as acid and pepsin-treated EGF.
Conclusions: EGF is produced in the 1-53 form but is rapidly cleaved to smaller, less active forms in acidic gastric juice. In contrast, only a small proportion of the EGF is cleaved if the pH is maintained above 4. This mechanism may be relevant to the healing process of acid suppressants.