The small intestine is highly susceptible to surgical stress even at remote locations. An earlier study using a rat model indicated that oxidative stress plays an important role in this process. The enzyme xanthine oxidase is an important source of free radicals in the small intestine. The role of this enzyme in intestinal damage after surgical stress was examined.


Rats pretreated with xanthine oxidase inhibitors were subjected to surgical stress by opening the abdomen and handling the intestine, as done during laparotomy. Enterocytes at various stages of differentiation were isolated and the protection offered by xanthine oxidase inhibitors against damage due to surgical stress was determined and compared with normal controls. Protection against ultrastructural changes to the mucosa, as well as mitochondrial function was examined.


Surgical stress affected both the villus as well as crypt cells, causing increased superoxide generation, accompanied by increased activity of xanthine oxidase. Xanthine oxidase inhibitors ameliorated the increased superoxide generation, and protected against mitochondrial damage and ultrastructural changes in the intestine.


Surgical stress affects both the villus and crypt cell populations in the small intestine. The enzyme xanthine oxidase maybe an important mediator of surgical stress in the intestine. © 2000 British Journal of Surgery Society Ltd