In fetal rats 5–7 days before birth, the duodenal epithelium is separated from mesenchymal cells by a well-defined basal lamina. By 3–4 days before birth, when small rudimentary villi are first seen, direct contact between epithelial and mesenchymal cells occurs by means of epithelial cell cytoplasmic processes which project through gaps in the basal lamina into the lamina propria. At contact sites, the epithelial and mesenchymal cell plasma membranes were less than 100 A apart but membrane fusion was not seen. In number and size these epithelial cell processes increase strikingly during the last 2 days of gestation, and they persist in large numbers until 7–10 days after birth. Thereafter, they decrease gradually in both number and size until 3–4 wk after birth, when the morphology of the epithelio-mesenchymal interface resembles that seen in adult rats, i.e., there are only rare epithelial cell processes which penetrate deeply into the lamina propria. The presence of a large number of epithelio-mesenchymal contact sites during the period of rapid growth and differentiation of duodenal mucosa may reflect epithelio-mesenchymal cell interactions which may facilitate the maturation of the duodenal mucosa.

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