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Summary: The lipid components of columnar cells harvested from rat small intestine were analyzed at each step of cell maturation. The effect of dietary lipids on the evolution of lipids in differentiating cells was studied using two diets representative either of a control or of an essential polyunsaturated fatty acid deficient lipid supply. Two groups of weanling rats were fed a semisynthetic diet composed of corn oil (control diet) or hydrogenated coconut oil (deficient diet) for 11 weeks. Intestinal cells were extracted according to their position along the villus column. Linoleic and arachidonic acids constitutive of cell phospholipids increased as cells migrated from the lower to the mid-part of the crypt-villus axis only with the control diet. This gradient disappeared after a 3-week feeding period with hydrogenated coconut oil diet so that columnar cells of essential fatty acid deficient rats exhibited the same overall fatty acid composition all along the crypt-villus axis. Essential fatty acid deficiency resulted in an increase of both the triene to tetraene and arachidonic acid to linoleic acid weight ratios regardless of the maturational step of cells. As compared to the control diet, the essential fatty acid deficient diet induced a decrease of both the cholesterol and free fatty acid to phos-pholipid molar ratios only in lower villus cells. We conclude that (a) progressive compositional modifications of lipids occur while ascending the crypt-villus axis and (b) essential fatty acid deficiency induces substantial alterations of the lipid evolution normally linked to cell differentiation.

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