1. A vicious cycle of malabsorption and malnutrition has been implicated in the pathogenesis of protracted diarrhoeal disease in infancy. Vitamin E deficiency is common in malnourished infants with protracted diarrhoea. We have studied the effects of chronic vitamin E deficiency on small-inestinal secretion and absorption in the rat.

2. Weanling rats were fed vitamin E-sufficient or -deficient diets for 21 weeks. Jejunal function was studied in vitro in an Ussing chamber after this period.

3. Steady-state isotopic flux experiments in unstimulated tissues demonstrated net Na+ and Clsecretion in vitamin E-deficient jejuna but net Na+ and Cl absorption in vitamin E-sufficient jejuna.

4. Basal intestinal short-circuit current was the same in both groups.

5. Cyclic nucleotide and maximal non-neuronal acetylcholine-mediated electrogenic secretion were increased in vitamin E-deficient jejuna.

6. Exogenous 5-hydroxytryptamine (serotonin) induced a smaller increment in electrogenic secretion in vitamin E-deficient jejuna.

7. Vitamin E-deficient jejuna were less responsive to exogenous noradrenaline, resulting in a smaller α2-adrenergic-mediated decrease in intestinal short-circuit current.

8. Fasting for 72 h produced a greater increment in intestinal short-circuit current in vitamin E-deficient jejuna.

9. Chronic vitamin E deficiency is prosecretory in the small intestine and may predispose to the perpetuation of protracted diarrhoeal diseases.

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