A reappraisal of the magnitude and implications of the intestinal unstirred layer

Alessandra Strocchi, Michael D. Levitt

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Until recently, a variety of studies had suggested that luminal stirring in the jejunum is relatively poor, with unstirred layers of about 600 μm reported for humans and 300-900 μm for animals. Unstirred layers of this magnitude would markedly retard the absorption of all solutes, and diffusion through this layer would be the rate-limiting step in the uptake of all rapidly absorbed compounds. As a result, luminal stirring, rather than epithelial transport, would be the major variable influencing absorption rate. However, recent studies in dogs and humans have shown that the unstirred layer has a maximal apparent thickness of only about 40 μm. This layer is far thinner than what can be achieved in vitro with vigorous stirring with a magnetic bar, suggesting that some unique stirring mechanism, perhaps villous contractions, is responsible for this extraordinarily efficient mixing. A 40-μm unstirred layer would produce only about 1 15 the resistance of the previously reported 600 μm value; with this thinner layer, alterations in either luminal stirring or epithelial function could readily influence the absorption rate of rapidly transported compounds.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)843-847
Number of pages5
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1991


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