Serum-free organ culture of suckling rat jejunum: Effect of regulatory hormones

Violet Albert, David Barkla, Graeme P. Young

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


To facilitate the study of regulators of differentiation and proliferation of small intestinal epithelium in the suckling rat we have developed a serum-free organ culture system and used it to examine epithelial responsiveness to various regulatory hormones. These hormones included the insulin-like growth factors (IGFs) whose action can be blocked by binding proteins in serum. Jejunal explants from 5-day-old suckling rats maintained better brush border enzyme activity and better histology when cultured under hyperbaric conditions for 24 h in serum-free Dulbecco’s modified Eagle’s medium/F12 medium than in RPMI 1640 plus 10% fetal bovine serum. Tissue responsiveness to various regulatory hormones was then tested in the serum-free medium. Insulin had no significant effect on morphology, proliferation rate, or enzyme activity in 5-day explants after 24 h in culture. However, insulin did increase lactase activity and induce the early appearance of sucrase in 10- and 12-day explants after 48 h culture. Dexamethasone increased specific activities of alkaline phosphatase (30%, P<0.001) and lactase (15%, P<0.001), and reduced shedding of alkaline phosphatase into the medium (P<0.001), in explants of 5-day-old rats cultured over 24 h. Dexamethasone combined with insulin had no obvious effect on the rate of protein or DNA synthesis but did increase villus height (P=0.04) and crypt depth (P=0.001) and acted synergistically to further increase lactase activity above levels obtained by either alone. IGF-I and IGF-II, des-(1–3)IGF-I, fibroblast growth factor (FGF), and growth hormone (GH) had no effect on morphology or biochemical activity of explants after 24 or 48 h culture. In conclusion, histology, enzyme activity, protein, and DNA synthesis of suckling rat jejunal explants were equivalent or better in serum-free than in serum-containing organ culture systems. Furthermore, biological responsiveness was demonstrated by dexamethasone and insulin altering the explants morphologically or biochemically. None of the IGFs or GH had any biological effects, raising doubts about their direct biological action on the developing intestinal epithelium.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)443-449
Number of pages7
JournalIn Vitro Cellular & Developmental Biology - Animal
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 1994
Externally publishedYes


  • dexamethasone
  • insulin
  • insulin-like growth factor
  • jejunum
  • organ culture
  • serum-free


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