We hypothesized that bioactive peptides might be released into the portal circulation and mediate pathophysiologic alterations accompanying small bowel obstruction. We studied this question in a subacute canine small bowel obstruction model using 50 percent diameter occlusion. Control animals underwent sham laparotomy. Vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP), peptide YY, and gastrin were measured in portal and systemic plasma by specific radioimmunoassays at 24-hour intervals as the obstruction progressed to completion over 5 days. All peptides in both groups demonstrated portal and peripheral gradients. In control dogs, peptide concentrations did not change postoperatively but VIP increased markedly in obstructed dogs, demonstrating a median portal level of 95 pmol/liter at 96 hours compared with 31.5 pmol/liter in control animals. These portal VIP levels are known to cause hypersecretion and splanchnic vasodilation in experimental models. The release of vasoactive compounds such as VIP may mediate local pathophysiology in human small bowel obstruction. A similar explanation of the systemic effects is consistent with the known cardiopulmonary bioactivity of VIP.
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