Measuring intestinal fluid transport in vitro: Gravimetric method versus non-absorbable marker

Jonathan M. Whittamore, Janet Genz, Martin Grosell, Rod W. Wilson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


The gut sac is a long-standing, widely used in vitro preparation for studying solute and water transport, and calculation of these fluxes requires an accurate assessment of volume. This is commonly determined gravimetrically by measuring the change in mass over time. While convenient this likely under-estimates actual net water flux (Jv) due to tissue edema. We evaluated whether the popular in vivo volume marker [14C]-PEG 4000, offers a more representative measure of Jv in vitro. We directly compared these two methods in five teleost species (toadfish, flounder, rainbow trout, killifish and tilapia). Net fluid absorption by the toadfish intestine based on PEG was significantly higher, by almost 4-fold, compared to gravimetric measurements, compatible with the latter under-estimating Jv. Despite this, PEG proved inconsistent for all of the other species frequently resulting in calculation of net secretion, in contrast to absorption seen gravimetrically. Such poor parallelism could not be explained by the absorption of [14C]-PEG (typically <1%). We identified a number of factors impacting the effectiveness of PEG. One was adsorption to the surface of sample tubes. While it was possible to circumvent this using unlabelled PEG 4000, this had a deleterious effect on PEG-based Jv. We also found sequestration of PEG within the intestinal mucus. In conclusion, the short-comings associated with the accurate representation of Jv by gut sac preparations are not overcome by [14C]-PEG. The gravimetric method therefore remains the most reliable measure of Jv and we urge caution in the use of PEG as a volume marker.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)27-36
Number of pages10
JournalComparative Biochemistry and Physiology - A Physiology
StatePublished - Apr 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Gut sac
  • PEG 4000
  • Polyethylene glycol
  • Teleost
  • Water

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Physiology
  • Molecular Biology


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