Sucralfate was tested in a rabbit model for its ability to prevent experimental esophagitis. Esophagitis was assessed by gross appearance and microscopic examination by an uninformed observer. In addition, the permeability of the esophagus to a number of probe molecules was measured to assess barrier function. Animals were exposed for 1 h to either acid alone (HCl at pH 2), acid plus pepsin (0.8 mg/ml), or acid plus taurocholic acid (5 mM), as well as to the same injurious agents with the addition of 1 g of sucralfate. At the completion of this hour, the perfusate was removed and all animals were again perfused for 1 h with HCl at pH 2 while mucosal permeability was assessed by measuring erythritol, glucose, potassium, and sodium fluxes. The animals were then killed. Sucralfate significantly diminished esophagitis and the attendant mucosal permeability changes induced by pepsin. The viscous sucralfate gel was shown to adhere tenaciously to the esophageal mucosa, but this characteristic of sucralfate was found not to be critical for its protective action because a clear sucrose sulfate solution with no gel present was also protective. Hence, it was not necessary for the gel to be present for the drug to be effective. Several in vitro tests suggested that the clear sucrose sulfate solution, like the sucralfate gel, probably acts through a topical protectant effect, rather than through pepsin inactivation. Although the degree of esophagitis induced by the bile acid was significantly less than that observed with pepsin, the mucosal permeability changes were comparable. Sucralfate did not significantly reduce the flux rates of glucose, potassium, and sodium nor did it affect the morphology of the mucosa after exposure to taurocholic acid. In conclusion, the binding of sucralfate to pepsin substrates in tissue results in this agent being very effective in preventing experimental peptic esophagitis.
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