The aim of the study was to determine if differences in the molecular size of two protein sources affect in vivo intestinal absorption rates of amino acids under normal feeding conditions. Accordingly, the portal absorption rate of amino acids was studied in rats fed semi-synthetic diets containing native casein (NC) or enzymatically hydrolysed casein as the only protein sources. Enzymatic casein hydrolysate (ECH) consisted of a mixture of free amino acids (51.2% with respect to total amino acids) and low molecular weight peptides. Rats were pre-adapted to the experimental diets for 5 days prior to the absorption studies. Total free amino acid concentrations in portal vein plasma of rats fed ECH diet at 60, 105, 150 and 195 min after feeding were lower (p < 0.05) than those of rats fed NC. Lower (p < 0.05) concentrations of free threonine, proline, tyrosine, valine and tryptophan at all time points, and higher (p < 0.05) leucine at 60 and 105 min were found in rats fed ECH when compared with those fed NC in portal vein plasma. Portal flow rates of threonine, proline, tyrosine and valine were higher in NC at most time points tested, while leucine and lysine were higher for ECH fed rats 60 and 105 min after feeding. In arterial plasma, significantly (p < 0.05) higher concentrations of some individual free amino acids (proline, tyrosine, valine and tryptophan) were determined at 60, 105, 150 and 195 min after feeding, and lower leucine values after 60 and 105 min, in rats fed NC compared with those fed ECH. Results indicate that in normal feeding conditions amino acids from NC and ECH are absorbed at different rates in rats.
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