Proteins and colloidal materials, administered orally to suckling rats and mice, were ingested by columnar absorptive cells of the jejunum and ileum, but not of the duodenum. Bovine gamma globulin and ovalbumin were identified in the apical cytoplasm by staining with fluorescent antibody; trypan blue, Evans blue, saccharated iron oxide, and colloidal gold were detected intracellularly by their color, specific staining, and appearance in the electron microscope. Each substance was segregated in membrane-enclosed vacuoles, apparently part of a system of potentially interconnecting vacuoles and tubules in the apical cytoplasm which is continuous in places with the apical cell membrane. We postulate that ingestion of foreign materials was accomplished by pinocytosis, that is, by invagination of the apical cell membrane to form vacuoles containing material from the intestinal lumen.
Approximately 18 days after birth columnar absorptive cells lost the ability to ingest proteins and colloids, and no longer contained large vacuoles and numerous tubules. At this age rats and mice lose the ability to absorb antibodies from the intestine in an immunologically intact form, and we conclude that cellular ingestion is part of the mechanism of absorption of intact proteins in suckling animals. Particulate fat apparently is absorbed in both newborn and adult animals by micropinocytosis. Thus adult animals may not have lost the capacity for pinocytosis, but rather have become selective as to what substances provoke it.
Cortisone acetate, administered subcutaneously to rats 8 to 10 days old alters the columnar absorptive cells within 72 hours so that they resemble the cells in adult animals and no longer ingest proteins.