At various postnatal stages, intestinal epithelial cells were isolated sequentially from villus tip to crypt base by successive EDTA treatments. According to the localization of marker enzymic activities, isolated cells were pooled into three cell compartments: villus (V), lower villus and upper crypt (VC) and crypt (C). Purified brush-border-membrane proteins were separated by 7.5%-polyacrylamide-gel electrophoresis in the presence of sodium dodecyl sulphate. Enzymic activities could be assigned to some protein bands: maltase/glucoamylase (protein band 3), sucrase–isomaltase (protein bands 3 and 6), lactase (protein band 5) and alkaline phosphatase (region of protein bands 8 and 9). The findings suggest the following. (1) Sucrase–isomaltase activities appeared in compartment C at 17 days with a simultaneous increase of the pre-existing protein band 3 and appearance of a well-defined protein band in position 6; the enzymic complex remained still present in the crypt cells until adulthood. From the day 21 onwards, sucrase–isomaltase was detected in compartments VC and V. (2) Lactase was only present in the three cell compartments until day 21; at this developmental stage its activity completely disappeared from compartment C, in spite of the persistence of a weak protein band. (3) Alkaline phosphatase activity could be detected as a single peak corresponding to protein band 9 in all three cell compartments until day 21; thereafter it was replaced by two peaks of activity showing a less precise correlation with the well-defined protein bands 8 and 9. In the crypt cells of the adult rat, however, the preweaning situation, which was regularly observed, is an unexpected phenomenon. (4) Maltase and glucoamylase did not display any marked qualitative or quantitative modifications either along the villus–crypt axis or during the period of postnatal development studied. Evidence is given from the present data that each brush-border enzyme investigated has a specific developmental pattern.

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