1. This study aimed to determine the effect of luminal butyrate on proliferative kinetics, a differentiation marker (alkaline phosphatase), and a molecule that controls cell-substratum adhesion (urokinase) in histologically normal human rectal mucosa.

2. Ten subjects with a colonoscopically normal colon (seven had previous adenomas) were given either butyrate or saline enemas for 4 days in a double-blind cross-over manner. Rectal biopsies were taken before and after each course of enemas. Epithelial proliferative kinetics were measured immunohistochemically using antibodies to proliferating cell nuclear antigen. Urokinase and alkaline phosphatase activities were measured spectrophotometrically in biopsy homogenates.

3. Both saline and butyrate enemas were well tolerated and induced no histological change except for a significant increase in crypt length (P < 0.05). The number of proliferating cells per crypt also increased significantly after butyrate (P = 0.018).

4. Compared with saline enemas, butyrate did not affect kinetic indices nor alkaline phosphatase activities. However, mucosal urokinase activities were significantly lower in butyrate-treated patients (9.5 ± 2.0 i.u./g) than in saline-treated patients (12.8 ± 2.0 i.u./g; P = 0.045).

5. Delivering of extra butyrate to the distal colon in healthy subjects may stabilize cell-substratum adhesion in surface epithelium and therefore offer a potential mechanism by which elevating distal colonic luminal butyrate concentrations might be beneficial in patients with colitis or hyperproliferative large bowel epithelium.

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