Lamellar structures of MUC2-rich mucin: A potential role in governing the barrier and lubricating functions of intestinal mucus

Andrew N. Round, Neil M. Rigby, Angela Garcia de la Torre, Adam Macierzanka, E. N. Clare Mills, Alan R. Mackie

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Mucus is a ubiquitous feature of mammalian wet epithelial surfaces, where it lubricates and forms a selective barrier that excludes a range of particulates, including pathogens, while hosting a diverse commensal microflora. The major polymeric component of mucus is mucin, a large glycoprotein formed by several MUC gene products, with MUC2 expression dominating intestinal mucus. A satisfactory answer to the question of how these molecules build a dynamic structure capable of playing such a complex role has yet to be found, as recent reports of distinct layers of chemically identical mucin in the colon and anomalously rapid transport of nanoparticles through mucus have emphasized. Here we use atomic force microscopy (AFM) to image a MUC2-rich mucus fraction isolated from pig jejunum. In the freshly isolated mucin fraction, we find direct evidence for trigonally linked structures, and their assembly into lamellar networks with a distribution of pore sizes from 20 to 200 nm. The networks are two-dimensional, with little interaction between lamellae. The existence of persistent cross-links between individual mucin polypeptides is consistent with a non-self-interacting lamellar model for intestinal mucus structure, rather than a physically entangled polymer network. We only observe collapsed entangled structures in purified mucin that has been stored in nonphysiological conditions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3253-3261
Number of pages9
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 16 Sep 2012

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