1. Biochemical estimates of lactase, sucrase and maltase activities, carried out on intestinal biopsies appearing histologically normal, were compared with those obtained from children suffering from coeliac disease, cow's milk protein intolerance/postenteritis syndrome and the intractable diarrhoea syndrome of infancy. Lactase deficiency in these children was found to be more pronounced than sucrase or maltase deficiencies.
2. Quantitative cytochemical investigations showed characteristic disease-induced changes in the ability of enterocytes to express α- and β-glucosidases, but not alkaline phosphatase activities, during migration along stunted villi.
3. Separate estimates of the time course describing hydrolase development in normal and coeliac tissue showed the initial rate of lactase appearance to be halved in coeliac patients, while that for α-glucosidases remained constant and that for alkaline phosphatase increased by a factor of four. Enteroblastic replacement of mature enterocytes cannot provide a general explanation for hydrolase deficiency in diseased intestine.