The differentiation status of epithelial cells in intestinal adaptation remains unclear. To determine whether enterocytes reach optimum maturity following adaptation after 85% shortening of the rat gut by jejunoileal bypass surgery, activities of two brush border enzymatic markers of differentiation, alkaline phosphatase and sucrase, were examined in subpopulations of epithelial cells isolated sequentially from the villus/crypt axis of normal (sham operated) and hyperplastic mucosa. In jejunal villi, adaptational hyperplasia was associated with an increase in total epithelial alkaline phosphatase, but not total sucrase, activity; alkaline phosphatase activity increased most obviously in cells at the 11-50% position (from the tip) on villi. In hyperplastic ileal villi, total alkaline phosphatase activity fell, although sucrase activity did not change significantly. Specific activity (per mg protein) of sucrase on jejunal villus epithelium was reduced by the adaptational changes to bypass; alkaline phosphatase specific activity remained unchanged. In the ileum, despite adaptational changes to bypass, there was no increase in the normally low specific activities of sucrase and alkaline phosphatase. Bypass surgery did not change the major site of expression of either enzyme on jejunal or ileal villi. In conclusion, enzymatic markers offunctional differentiation are not all equally affected by adaptational hyperplasia. Hypertrophy ofvilli and increased cell proliferation seen in jejunum remaining exposed to luminal contents resulted in an increase in the alkaline phosphatase but not the sucrase content. This is not, therefore, the result of a simple immaturity of villus cells. Morphological adaption in the ileum, however, is not accompanied by adaptation of brush border enzyme markers of differentiation, confirming a functional immaturity in these cells. Strategies for increasing the expression of these markers may have clinical value.