Soluble SULTs (sulfotransferases) are important in the regulation of messenger molecules and the elimination of xenobiotics. However, sulfo-conjugation of various substrates can also lead to the formation of reactive metabolites that may induce cancer and cause other damage. The aim of the present study was to identify the SULT forms expressed in the human gastrointestinal tract, especially the colon and rectum (common sites for cancer), and to determine their cellular localization. Normal colonic or rectal tissue, resected with tumours, was obtained from 39 subjects. For comparison, we additionally studied one to four samples from stomach, jejunum, ileum, cecum and liver. SULTs were detected by immunoblotting, immunohistochemistry and measurement of enzyme activities. SULT1A1, 1A3 and 1B1 were found in all parts of the gastrointestinal tract, often exceeding levels in liver (where these forms were present at high, undetectable and low levels respectively). They were predominantly localized in differentiated enterocytes. SULT1E1 and 2A1 were only detected in liver, jejunum, ileum and cecum. SULT1C1 was readily found in stomach, but was negligible elsewhere. SULT1A2 was present at low levels in individual samples. The remaining forms were not detected with the limitation that only high levels could be recognized with the antisera used. In conclusion, SULTs are abundant in the gastrointestinal tract of man. We suspect that they are involved in the presystemic elimination of bioactive food-borne components, including aglycones released by gut microbiota, as well as the bioactivation of some procarcinogens.

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