Enterocytes, or intestinal absorptive cells, are simple columnar epithelial cells which line the inner surface of the small and large intestines. A glycocalyx surface coat contains digestive enzymes. Microvilli on the apical surface increase its surface area. This facilitates transport of numerous small molecules into the enterocyte from the intestinal lumen. These include broken down proteins, fats, and sugars, as well as water, electrolytes, vitamins, and bile salts. Enterocytes also have an endocrine role, secreting hormones such as leptin.

Schematic drawing of an enterocyte: the intestinal lumen is above the brush border.
LocationSmall intestine
ShapeSimple columnar
FunctionEpithelial cells
Anatomical terms of microanatomy



The major functions of enterocytes include:[1]


  • Dietary fructose intolerance occurs when there is a deficiency in the amount of fructose carrier.
  • Lactose intolerance is the most common problem of carbohydrate digestion and occurs when the human body doesn't produce a sufficient amount of lactase enzyme to break down the sugar lactose found in dairy. As a result of this deficiency, undigested lactose is not absorbed and is instead passed on to the colon. There bacteria metabolize the lactose and in doing so release gas and metabolic products that enhance colonic motility. This causes gas and other uncomfortable symptoms.
  • Cholera toxin may increase the secretion or decrease the intake of water and electrolytes, leading to possibly severe dehydration and electrolyte imbalance.[2]
  • Rotavirus selectively invades and kills mature enterocytes in the small intestine.[3]

Stem cell aging


Intestinal stem cell aging has been studied in Drosophila as a model for understanding the biology of stem cell/niche aging.[4] Using knockdown mutants defective in various genes that function in the DNA damage response in enterocytes, it was shown that deficiency in the DNA damage response accelerates intestinal stem cell aging, thus providing a better understanding of the molecular mechanisms of this aging process.[4]

See also



  1. ^ Ross, M.H. & Pawlina, W. 2003. Histology: A Text and Atlas, 4th Edition. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Philadelphia.
  2. ^ Joaquín Sánchez, Jan Holmgren (February 2011). "Cholera toxin – A foe & a friend" (PDF). Indian Journal of Medical Research. 133: 158.
  3. ^ Robbins and Cotran Pathologic Basis of Disease, Chapter 17, 749-819
  4. ^ a b Park JS, Jeon HJ, Pyo JH, Kim YS, Yoo MA. Deficiency in DNA damage response of enterocytes accelerates intestinal stem cell aging in Drosophila. Aging (Albany NY). 2018 Mar 7;10(3):322-338. doi: 10.18632/aging.101390. PMID 29514136; PMCID: PMC5892683
  • Histology image: 11706loa – Histology Learning System at Boston University - "Digestive System: Alimentary Canal — jejunum, goblet cells and enterocytes"