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1.  Serine Proteases Degrade Airway Mucins in Cystic Fibrosis ▿ †  
Infection and Immunity  2011;79(8):3438-3444.
Airway mucins are the major molecular constituents of mucus. Mucus forms the first barrier to invading organisms in the airways and is an important defense mechanism of the lung. We confirm that mucin concentrations are significantly decreased in airway secretions of subjects with cystic fibrosis (CF) who have chronic Pseudomonas aeruginosa infection. In sputum from CF subjects without a history of P. aeruginosa, we found no significant difference in the mucin concentration compared to mucus from normal controls. We demonstrate that mucins can be degraded by synthetic human neutrophil elastase (HNE) and P. aeruginosa elastase B (pseudolysin) and that degradation was inhibited by serine proteases inhibitors (diisopropyl fluorophosphates [DFP], phenylmethylsulfonyl fluoride [PMSF], and 1-chloro-3-tosylamido-7-amino-2-heptanone HCl [TLCK]). The mucin concentration in airway secretions from CF subjects is similar to that for normal subjects until there is infection by P. aeruginosa, and after that, the mucin concentration decreases dramatically. This is most likely due to degradation by serine proteases. The loss of this mucin barrier may contribute to chronic airway infection in the CF airway.
PMCID: PMC3147599  PMID: 21646446
2.  Mucin Granule Intraluminal Organization 
Mucus secretions have played a central role in the evolution of multicellular organisms, enabling adaptation to widely differing environments. In vertebrates, mucus covers and protects the epithelial cells in the respiratory, gastrointestinal, urogenital, visual, and auditory systems, amphibian's epidermis, and the gills in fishes. Deregulation of mucus production and/or composition has important consequences for human health. For example, mucus obstruction of small airways is observed in chronic airway diseases, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, and cystic fibrosis. The major protein component in the mucus is a family of large, disulfide-bonded glycoproteins known as gel-forming mucins. These proteins are accumulated in large, regulated secretory granules (the mucin granules) that occupy most of the apical cytoplasm of specialized cells known as mucous/goblet cells. Since mucin oligomers have contour dimensions larger than the mucin granule average diameter, the question arises how these highly hydrophilic macromolecules are organized within these organelles. I review here the intraluminal organization of the mucin granule in view of our knowledge on the structure, biosynthesis, and biophysical properties of gel-forming mucins, and novel imaging studies in living mucous/goblet cells. The emerging concept is that the mucin granule lumen comprises a partially condensed matrix meshwork embedded in a fluid phase where proteins slowly diffuse.
PMCID: PMC2176109  PMID: 16960124
granule matrix; mucin granules; mucins; secretory granules; secretion
3.  Regulation of mucin secretion and inflammation in asthma; A role for MARCKS protein? 
Biochimica et biophysica acta  2011;1810(11):1110-1113.
A major characteristic of asthmatic airways is an increase in mucin (the glycoprotein component of mucus) producing and secreting cells, which leads to increased mucin release that further clogs constricted airways and contributes markedly to airway obstruction and, in the most severe cases, to status asthmaticus. Asthmatic airways show both a hyperplasia and metaplasia of goblet cells, mucin-producing cells in the epithelium; hyperplasia refers to enhanced numbers of goblet cells in larger airways, while metaplasia refers to the appearance of these cells in smaller airways where they normally are not seen. With the number of mucin-producing and secreting cells increased, there is a coincident hypersecretion of mucin which characterizes asthma. On a cellular level, a major regulator of airway mucin secretion in both in vitro and in vivo studies has been shown to be MARCKS (Myristoylated Alanine-Rich C Kinase substrate) protein, a ubiquitous substrate of protein kinase C (PKC). In this review, properties of MARCKS and how the protein may regulate mucin secretion at a cellular level will be discussed. In addition, the roles of MARCKS in airway inflammation related to both influx of inflammatory cells into the lung and release of granules containing inflammatory mediators by these cells will be explored.
PMCID: PMC3097255  PMID: 21281703
4.  Muc5b Is the Major Polymeric Mucin in Mucus from Thoroughbred Horses With and Without Airway Mucus Accumulation 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(5):e19678.
Mucus accumulation is a feature of inflammatory airway disease in the horse and has been associated with reduced performance in racehorses. In this study, we have analysed the two major airways gel-forming mucins Muc5b and Muc5ac in respect of their site of synthesis, their biochemical properties, and their amounts in mucus from healthy horses and from horses with signs of airway mucus accumulation. Polyclonal antisera directed against equine Muc5b and Muc5ac were raised and characterised. Immunohistochemical staining of normal equine trachea showed that Muc5ac and Muc5b are produced by cells in the submucosal glands, as well as surface epithelial goblet cells. Western blotting after agarose gel electrophoresis of airway mucus from healthy horses, and horses with mucus accumulation, was used to determine the amounts of these two mucins in tracheal wash samples. The results showed that in healthy horses Muc5b was the predominant mucin with small amounts of Muc5ac. The amounts of Muc5b and Muc5ac were both dramatically increased in samples collected from horses with high mucus scores as determined visually at the time of endoscopy and that this increase also correlated with increase number of bacteria present in the sample. The change in amount of Muc5b and Muc5ac indicates that Muc5b remains the most abundant mucin in mucus. In summary, we have developed mucin specific polyclonal antibodies, which have allowed us to show that there is a significant increase in Muc5b and Muc5ac in mucus accumulated in equine airways and these increases correlated with the numbers of bacteria.
PMCID: PMC3094342  PMID: 21602926
5.  The role of airway mucus in pulmonary toxicology. 
Environmental Health Perspectives  1994;102(Suppl 2):89-103.
Airway mucus is a complex airway secretion whose primary function as part of the mucociliary transport mechanism is to to serve as renewable and transportable barrier against inhaled particulates and toxic agents. The rheologic properties necessary for this function are imparted by glycoproteins, or mucins. Some respiratory disease states, e.g., asthma, cystic fibrosis, and bronchitis, are characterized by quantitative and qualitative changes in mucus biosynthesis that contribute to pulmonary pathology. Similar alterations in various aspects of mucin biochemistry and biophysics, leading to mucus hypersecretion and altered mucus rheology, result from inhalation of certain air pollutants, such as ozone, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and cigarette smoke. The consequences of these pollutant-induced alterations in mucus biology are discussed in the context of pulmonary pathophysiology and toxicology.
PMCID: PMC1567079  PMID: 7925190
6.  Central Role of Muc5ac Expression in Mucous Metaplasia and Its Regulation by Conserved 5′ Elements 
Mucus hypersecretion contributes to morbidity and mortality in many obstructive lung diseases. Gel-forming mucins are the chief glycoprotein components of airway mucus, and elevated expression of these during mucous metaplasia precedes the hypersecretory phenotype. Five orthologous genes (MUC2, MUC5AC, MUC5B, MUC6, and MUC19) encode the mammalian gel-forming mucin family, and several have been implicated in asthma, cystic fibrosis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease pathologies. However, in the absence of a comprehensive analysis, their relative contributions remain unclear. Here, we assess the expression of the entire gel-forming mucin gene family in allergic mouse airways and show that Muc5ac is the predominant gel-forming mucin induced. We previously showed that the induction of mucous metaplasia in ovalbumin-sensitized and -challenged mouse lungs occurs within bronchial Clara cells. The temporal induction and localization of Muc5ac transcripts correlate with the induced expression and localization of mucin glycoproteins in bronchial airways. To better understand the tight regulation of Muc5ac expression, we analyzed all available 5′-flanking sequences of mammalian MUC5AC orthologs and identified evolutionarily conserved regions within domains proximal to the mRNA coding region. Analysis of luciferase reporter gene activity in a mouse transformed Clara cell line demonstrates that this region possesses strong promoter activity and harbors multiple conserved transcription factor–binding motifs. In particular, SMAD4 and HIF-1α bind to the promoter, and mutation of their recognition motifs abolishes promoter function. In conclusion, Muc5ac expression is the central event in antigen-induced mucous metaplasia, and phylogenetically conserved 5′ noncoding domains control its regulation.
PMCID: PMC1994232  PMID: 17463395
mucin; metaplasia; airway; lung; epithelium
7.  Mucus hypersecretion in asthma: causes and effects 
Purpose of review
Airway mucus plugging has long been recognized as a principal cause of death in asthma. However, molecular mechanisms of mucin overproduction and secretion have not been understood until recently. These mechanisms are reviewed together with ongoing investigations relating them to lung pathophysiology.
Recent findings
Of the five secreted gel-forming mucins in mammals, only MUC5AC and MUC5B are produced in significant quantities in intrapulmonary airways. MUC5B is the principal gel-forming mucin at baseline in small airways of humans and mice, and therefore likely performs most homeostatic clearance functions. MUC5AC is the principal gel-forming mucin upregulated in airway inflammation and is under negative control by forkhead box a2 and positive control by hypoxia inducible factor-1. Mucin secretion is regulated separately from production, principally by extracellular triphosphate nucleotides that bind P2Y2 receptors on the lumenal surface of airway secretory cells, generating intracellular second messengers that activate the exocytic proteins, Munc13-2 and synaptotagmin-2.
Markedly upregulated production of MUC5AC together with stimulated secretion leads to airflow obstruction in asthma. As MUC5B appears to mediate homeostatic functions, it may be possible to selectively inhibit MUC5AC production without impairing airway function. The precise roles of mucin hypersecretion in asthma symptoms such as dyspnea and cough and in physiologic phenomena such as airway hyperresponsiveness remain to be defined.
PMCID: PMC2709596  PMID: 19077699
airway; asthma; mucin; mucous; mucus
8.  Analysis of the proteome of human airway epithelial secretions 
Proteome Science  2011;9:4.
Airway surface liquid, often referred to as mucus, is a thin layer of fluid covering the luminal surface that plays an important defensive role against foreign particles and chemicals entering the lungs. Airway mucus contains various macromolecules, the most abundant being mucin glycoproteins, which contribute to its defensive function. Airway epithelial cells cultured in vitro secrete mucins and nonmucin proteins from their apical surface that mimics mucus production in vivo. The current study was undertaken to identify the polypeptide constituents of human airway epithelial cell secretions to gain a better understanding of the protein composition of respiratory mucus.
Fifty-five proteins were identified in the high molecular weight fraction of apical secretions collected from in vitro cultures of well-differentiated primary human airway epithelial cells and isolated under physiological conditions. Among these were MUC1, MUC4, MUC5B, and MUC16 mucins. By proteomic analysis, the nonmucin proteins could be classified as inflammatory, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidative, and/or anti-microbial.
Because the majority of the nonmucin proteins possess molecular weights less than that selected for analysis, it is theoretically possible that they may associate with the high molecular weight and negatively charged mucins to form a highly ordered structural organization that is likely to be important for maintaining the proper defensive function of airway mucus.
PMCID: PMC3036598  PMID: 21251289
9.  Aldose Reductase Inhibition Prevents Metaplasia of Airway Epithelial Cells 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(12):e14440.
Goblet cell metaplasia that causes mucus hypersecretion and obstruction in the airway lumen could be life threatening in asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease patients. Inflammatory cytokines such as IL-13 mediate the transformation of airway ciliary epithelial cells to mucin-secreting goblet cells in acute as well as chronic airway inflammatory diseases. However, no effective and specific pharmacologic treatment is currently available. Here, we investigated the mechanisms by which aldose reductase (AR) regulates the mucus cell metaplasia in vitro and in vivo.
Metaplasia in primary human small airway epithelial cells (SAEC) was induced by a Th2 cytokine, IL-13, without or with AR inhibitor, fidarestat. After 48 h of incubation with IL-13 a large number of SAEC were transformed into goblet cells as determined by periodic acid-schiff (PAS)-staining and immunohistochemistry using antibodies against Mucin5AC. Further, IL-13 significantly increased the expression of Mucin5AC at mRNA and protein levels. These changes were significantly prevented by treatment of the SAEC with AR inhibitor. AR inhibition also decreased IL-13-induced expression of Muc5AC, Muc5B, and SPDEF, and phosphorylation of JAK-1, ERK1/2 and STAT-6. In a mouse model of ragweed pollen extract (RWE)-induced allergic asthma treatment with fidarestat prevented the expression of IL-13, phosphorylation of STAT-6 and transformation of epithelial cells to goblet cells in the lung. Additionally, while the AR-null mice were resistant, wild-type mice showed goblet cell metaplasia after challenge with RWE.
The results show that exposure of SAEC to IL-13 caused goblet cell metaplasia, which was significantly prevented by AR inhibition. Administration of fidarestat to mice prevented RWE-induced goblet cell metaplasia and AR null mice were largely resistant to allergen induced changes in the lung. Thus our results indicate that AR inhibitors such as fidarestat could be developed as therapeutic agents to prevent goblet cell metaplasia in asthma and related pathologies.
PMCID: PMC3010981  PMID: 21203431
10.  Periciliary Brush Promotes the Lung Health by Separating the Mucus Layer from Airway Epithelia 
Science (New York, N.Y.)  2012;337(6097):937-941.
Mucus clearance is the primary defense mechanism that protects airways from inhaled infectious and toxic agents. In the current Gel-on-Liquid mucus clearance model mucus gel is propelled on top of a “watery” periciliary layer surrounding the cilia. However, this model fails to explain the formation of distinct mucus layer in health or why mucus clearance fails in disease. We propose a Gel-on-Brush model in which the periciliary layer is occupied by membrane spanning mucins and mucopolysaccharides densely tethered to the airway surface. This brush prevents mucus penetration into the periciliary space and causes mucus to form a distinct layer. The relative osmotic moduli of the mucus and periciliary brush layers explain both the stability of mucus clearance in health and its failure in airway disease.
PMCID: PMC3633213  PMID: 22923574
11.  Growth in and breakdown of purified rabbit small intestinal mucin by Yersinia enterocolitica. 
Infection and Immunity  1993;61(10):4131-4138.
The mucus lining of the gastrointestinal tract serves as a protective barrier over the epithelial surface that must be crossed by invading bacteria seeking entry into the mucosa. The gel-forming component of mucus is mucin, a large polymeric glycoprotein. The present study examined the growth of Yersinia enterocolitica (with and without its virulence plasmid) in purified rabbit small intestinal mucin and the ability of bacteria to degrade mucin. Both virulent and nonvirulent organisms showed enhanced growth in mucin-supplemented media compared with unsupplemented media, but only at 37 degrees C and not at 25 degrees C. The effects of mucin were not specific because medium supplemented with bovine serum albumin also enhanced bacterial growth at 37 degrees C. Purified mucin was broken down into lower-molecular-weight components (assessed by monitoring its elution profile on a Sepharose CL-2B column) by plasmid-bearing Y. enterocolitica but not by plasmid-cured organisms. Culturing virulent Y. enterocolitica at 25 degrees C completely suppressed its capacity to degrade mucin, suggesting that this activity depends on plasmid expression. These results were confirmed in similar studies with purified rabbit colonic mucin. Mucin-degrading activity could be demonstrated in spent culture media from virulent Y. enterocolitica incubated at 37 degrees C but not in bacterial membrane preparations. Changes in the elution profiles of small intestinal and colonic mucins exposed to plasmid-bearing Y. enterocolitica at 37 degrees C were consistent with proteolytic depolymerization. The ability to grow well in mucin may help Y. enterocolitica to colonize the intestine, while the production of a mucin-degrading enzyme(s) by plasmid-bearing organisms may assist pathogenic strains to solubilize and penetrate the mucus gel layer.
PMCID: PMC281135  PMID: 8406802
12.  Helicobacter pylori in vivo causes structural changes in the adherent gastric mucus layer but barrier thickness is not compromised 
Gut  1998;43(4):470-475.
Background—It has been proposed that a pathogenic effect of Helicobacter pylori is a weakening of the protective mucus barrier; however, this remains controversial. 
Aims—To clarify the effects of H pylori infection on the mucus gel barrier in vivo. 
Methods—Mucus gel polymeric structure and the thickness of the adherent mucus barrier were measured in endoscopic biopsy samples in subjects with and without H pylori infection. 
Results—There was a significant 18% reduction in the proportion of polymeric gel forming mucin in the adherent mucus layer in H pylori positive compared with negative subjects. There was no change in the adherent mucus thickness between H pylori positive and negative subjects without gastric atrophy (mean (SD): 104(26) µm, 106 (30) µm respectively). There was however a significant reduction in mucus thickness in those H pylori positive subjects with underlying gastric atrophy (84 (13) µm, p=0.03) compared with those without atrophy. 
Conclusions—A partial breakdown in gel forming structure of the gastric mucus barrier does occur in H pylori infection per se but this is insufficient to cause a collapse of the mucus barrier. 

Keywords: Helicobacter pylori; gastric mucus
PMCID: PMC1727262  PMID: 9824571
13.  Mucin granule-associated proteins in human bronchial epithelial cells: the airway goblet cell "granulome" 
Respiratory Research  2011;12(1):118.
Excess mucus in the airways leads to obstruction in diseases such as chronic bronchitis, asthma, and cystic fibrosis. Mucins, the highly glycosolated protein components of mucus, are stored in membrane-bound granules housed in the cytoplasm of airway epithelial "goblet" cells until they are secreted into the airway lumen via an exocytotic process. Precise mechanism(s) of mucin secretion, including the specific proteins involved in the process, have yet to be elucidated. Previously, we have shown that the Myristoylated Alanine-Rich C Kinase Substrate (MARCKS) protein regulates mucin secretion by orchestrating translocation of mucin granules from the cytosol to the plasma membrane, where the granules dock, fuse and release their contents into the airway lumen. Associated with MARCKS in this process are chaperone (Heat Shock Protein 70 [HSP70], Cysteine string protein [CSP]) and cytoskeletal (actin, myosin) proteins. However, additional granule-associated proteins that may be involved in secretion have not yet been elucidated.
Here, we isolated mucin granules and granule membranes from primary cultures of well differentiated human bronchial epithelial cells utilizing a novel technique of immuno-isolation, based on the presence of the calcium activated chloride channel hCLCA1 (the human ortholog of murine Gob-5) on the granule membranes, and verified via Western blotting and co-immunoprecipitation that MARCKS, HSP70, CSP and hCLCA1 were present on the granule membranes and associated with each other. We then subjected the isolated granules/membranes to liquid chromatography mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) to identify other granule associated proteins.
A number of additional cytoskeletal (e.g. Myosin Vc) and regulatory proteins (e.g. Protein phosphatase 4) associated with the granules and could play a role in secretion were discovered. This is the first description of the airway goblet cell "granulome."
PMCID: PMC3184067  PMID: 21896166
14.  Rhinovirus-Induced Major Airway Mucin Production Involves a Novel TLR3-EGFR–Dependent Pathway 
Mucociliary clearance is a critical innate defense system responsible for clearing up invading pathogens including bacteria and virus. Although the right amount of mucus is good, excessive mucus causes airway obstruction and tends to precipitate disease symptoms. Rhinovirus (RV) is a common cold virus that causes asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease exacerbation. Mucus overproduction has been linked to the pathogenesis of RV-induced diseases and disease exacerbations. However, the molecular mechanism is not clear. In this study, using one of the major airway mucin-MUC5AC as marker, we found that both major and minor groups of RV induced mucin production in primary human epithelial cells and cell line. RV1A (a minor group of RV) could induce mucous cell metaplasia in vivo. Viral replication was needed for RV-induced mucin expression, and this induction was also dependent on TLR3, suggesting the involvement of double-stranded (ds) RNA signaling. Indeed, dsRNA alone could also induce mucin expression. TLR3-mediated mucin induction was negatively regulated by MyD88, and only partially dependent on TRIF, which suggests a departure from well-documented TLR3 signaling paradigm that mediates inflammatory and other innate defense gene inductions. In addition, TLR3 signaling activated epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) through inductions of the expression of EGFR ligands (transforming growth factor-α and amphiregulin), which in turn activated EGFR-ERK signaling and mucin expression through an autocrine/paracrine loop. This novel coupling of antiviral defense machinery (i.e., TLR3) and major epithelial proliferation/repair pathway (i.e., EGFR) might play an important role in viral-induced airway remodeling and airway disease exacerbation.
PMCID: PMC2677440  PMID: 18978302
mucin; airway epithelium; TLR3; rhinovirus
15.  Helicobacter pylori infection does not reduce the viscosity of human gastric mucus gel. 
Gut  1995;36(3):327-329.
The mechanism by which Helicobacter pylori undermines host defence mechanisms is unclear. Several in vitro studies using soluble mucins have suggested that H pylori may compromise mucus function. Gastric mucus gel was obtained from 13 H pylori infected patients; six untreated subjects and seven after eradication of the infection. Gastric mucus is a non-Newtonian substance in that its viscosity changes with changing rates of shear, requiring mucus viscosity to be measured in a rotational cone-plate microviscometer. Viscosity was measured at shear rates varying from 1.15 s-1 to 46 s-1. The gastric mucus viscosity was significantly higher in patients infected with H pylori compared with mucus gel obtained after eradication of the infection. The results of our study suggest that the previous studies using in vitro methods involving soluble mucins or its components may have lead to erroneous conclusions about the in vivo interactions of H pylori and gastric mucus gel. The present findings argue against the hypothesis that degradation of gastric mucus by H pylori is important in the pathogenesis of peptic ulcer.
PMCID: PMC1382437  PMID: 7698685
16.  Regulated Mucin Secretion from Airway Epithelial Cells 
Secretory epithelial cells of the proximal airways synthesize and secrete gel-forming polymeric mucins. The secreted mucins adsorb water to form mucus that is propelled by neighboring ciliated cells, providing a mobile barrier which removes inhaled particles and pathogens from the lungs. Several features of the intracellular trafficking of mucins make the airway secretory cell an interesting comparator for the cell biology of regulated exocytosis. Polymeric mucins are exceedingly large molecules (up to 3 × 106 Da per monomer) whose folding and initial polymerization in the ER requires the protein disulfide isomerase Agr2. In the Golgi, mucins further polymerize to form chains and possibly branched networks comprising more than 20 monomers. The large size of mucin polymers imposes constraints on their packaging into transport vesicles along the secretory pathway. Sugar side chains account for >70% of the mass of mucins, and their attachment to the protein core by O-glycosylation occurs in the Golgi. Mature polymeric mucins are stored in large secretory granules ∼1 μm in diameter. These are translocated to the apical membrane to be positioned for exocytosis by cooperative interactions among myristoylated alanine-rich C kinase substrate, cysteine string protein, heat shock protein 70, and the cytoskeleton. Mucin granules undergo exocytic fusion with the plasma membrane at a low basal rate and a high stimulated rate. Both rates are mediated by a regulated exocytic mechanism as indicated by phenotypes in both basal and stimulated secretion in mice lacking Munc13-2, a sensor of the second messengers calcium and diacylglycerol (DAG). Basal secretion is induced by low levels of activation of P2Y2 purinergic and A3 adenosine receptors by extracellular ATP released in paracrine fashion and its metabolite adenosine. Stimulated secretion is induced by high levels of the same ligands, and possibly by inflammatory mediators as well. Activated receptors are coupled to phospholipase C by Gq, resulting in the generation of DAG and of IP3 that releases calcium from apical ER. Stimulated secretion requires activation of the low affinity calcium sensor Synaptotagmin-2, while a corresponding high affinity calcium sensor in basal secretion is not known. The core exocytic machinery is comprised of the SNARE proteins VAMP8, SNAP23, and an unknown Syntaxin protein, together with the scaffolding protein Munc18b. Common and distinct features of this exocytic system in comparison to neuroendocrine cells and neurons are highlighted.
PMCID: PMC3776272  PMID: 24065956
secretion; exocytosis; mucin; mucus; MARCKS; Munc18; Munc13; synaptotagmin
17.  Serine Protease(s) Secreted by the Nematode Trichuris muris Degrade the Mucus Barrier 
The polymeric mucin component of the intestinal mucus barrier changes during nematode infection to provide not only physical protection but also to directly affect pathogenic nematodes and aid expulsion. Despite this, the direct interaction of the nematodes with the mucins and the mucus barrier has not previously been addressed. We used the well-established Trichuris muris nematode model to investigate the effect on mucins of the complex mixture of immunogenic proteins secreted by the nematode called excretory/secretory products (ESPs). Different regimes of T. muris infection were used to simulate chronic (low dose) or acute (high dose) infection. Mucus/mucins isolated from mice and from the human intestinal cell line, LS174T, were treated with ESPs. We demonstrate that serine protease(s) secreted by the nematode have the ability to change the properties of the mucus barrier, making it more porous by degrading the mucin component of the mucus gel. Specifically, the serine protease(s) acted on the N-terminal polymerising domain of the major intestinal mucin Muc2, resulting in depolymerisation of Muc2 polymers. Importantly, the respiratory/gastric mucin Muc5ac, which is induced in the intestine and is critical for worm expulsion, was protected from the depolymerising effect exerted by ESPs. Furthermore, serine protease inhibitors (Serpins) which may protect the mucins, in particular Muc2, from depolymerisation, were highly expressed in mice resistant to chronic infection. Thus, we demonstrate that nematodes secrete serine protease(s) to degrade mucins within the mucus barrier, which may modify the niche of the parasite to prevent clearance from the host or facilitate efficient mating and egg laying from the posterior end of the parasite that is in intimate contact with the mucus barrier. However, during a TH2-mediated worm expulsion response, serpins, Muc5ac and increased levels of Muc2 protect the barrier from degradation by the nematode secreted protease(s).
Author Summary
Gastrointestinal parasitic worm infections cause significant morbidity, affecting up to a third of the world's populationand their domestic pets and livestock. Mucus, the gel-like material that blankets the surface of the intestine, forms a protective barrier that is an important part of our innate immune system. The whipworm Trichuris is closely associated with the intestinal mucus barrier. The major structural component of this barrier, large glycoproteins known as mucins play a significant role in the expulsion of these worms in a mouse model. Using mice that get longterm chronic infections and others able to expel the worms from the intestine, we uncover a novel role for products secreted by the worms. Enzymes secreted by whipworms can disrupt the mucin network that gives mucus its viscous properties. Moreover, we unravel that worm products are unable to degrade forms of mucins present in the mucus barrier during worm expulsion, suggesting that these enzymes may be released by the worm as part of its regime to improve its niche and survival in the host. However, the host is capable of producing mucins and other protective molecules that protect the mucus barrier from degradation and are detrimental to the viability of the worm.
PMCID: PMC3469553  PMID: 23071854
18.  Assessment of Intracellular Mucin Content In Vivo 
Airway mucus presents a first line of defense against inhaled materials. It also, however, is a significant pathological contributor to chronic lung diseases such as asthma, cystic fibrosis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Thus, gaining a better understanding of the mechanisms of mucus production and secretion is an important goal for improving respiratory health. Mucins, the chief glycoprotein components of airway mucus, are very large polymeric glycoproteins, and measuring their production and secretion in experimental animals present significant technical challenges. Over the past several years, we have developed assays for accurately quantifying mucin production and secretion using histological and biochemical assays. These methods are described here.
PMCID: PMC3751172  PMID: 22259143
airways; asthma; cystic fibrosis; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; goblet cell; lungs; mouse; mucin; mucous; mucus
19.  A New Method to Improve the Clinical Evaluation of Cystic Fibrosis Patients by Mucus Viscoelastic Properties 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(1):e82297.
In cystic fibrosis (CF) patients airways mucus shows an increased viscoelasticity due to the concentration of high molecular weight components. Such mucus thickening eventually leads to bacterial overgrowth and prevents mucus clearance. The altered rheological behavior of mucus results in chronic lung infection and inflammation, which causes most of the cases of morbidity and mortality, although the cystic fibrosis complications affect other organs as well. Here, we present a quantitative study on the correlation between cystic fibrosis mucus viscoelasticity and patients clinical status. In particular, a new diagnostic parameter based on the correlation between CF sputum viscoelastic properties and the severity of the disease, expressed in terms of FEV1 and bacterial colonization, was developed. By using principal component analysis, we show that the types of colonization and FEV1 classes are significantly correlated to the elastic modulus, and that the latter can be used for CF severity classification with a high predictive efficiency (88%). The data presented here show that the elastic modulus of airways mucus, given the high predictive efficiency, could be used as a new clinical parameter in the prognostic evaluation of cystic fibrosis.
PMCID: PMC3880261  PMID: 24404129
20.  Functionalized Positive Nanoparticles Reduce Mucin Swelling and Dispersion 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(11):e15434.
Multi-functionalized nanoparticles (NPs) have been extensively investigated for their potential in household and commercial products, and biomedical applications. Previous reports have confirmed the cellular nanotoxicity and adverse inflammatory effects on pulmonary systems induced by NPs. However, possible health hazards resulting from mucus rheological disturbances induced by NPs are underexplored. Accumulation of viscous, poorly dispersed, and less transportable mucus leading to improper mucus rheology and dysfunctional mucociliary clearance are typically found to associate with many respiratory diseases such as asthma, cystic fibrosis (CF), and COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). Whether functionalized NPs can alter mucus rheology and its operational mechanisms have not been resolved. Herein, we report that positively charged functionalized NPs can hinder mucin gel hydration and effectively induce mucin aggregation. The positively charged NPs can significantly reduce the rate of mucin matrix swelling by a maximum of 7.5 folds. These NPs significantly increase the size of aggregated mucin by approximately 30 times within 24 hrs. EGTA chelation of indigenous mucin crosslinkers (Ca2+ ions) was unable to effectively disperse NP-induced aggregated mucins. Our results have demonstrated that positively charged functionalized NPs can impede mucin gel swelling by crosslinking the matrix. This report also highlights the unexpected health risk of NP-induced change in mucus rheological properties resulting in possible mucociliary transport impairment on epithelial mucosa and related health problems. In addition, our data can serve as a prospective guideline for designing nanocarriers for airway drug delivery applications.
PMCID: PMC2978103  PMID: 21085670
21.  Increased mast cells and neutrophils in submucosal mucous glands and mucus plugging in patients with asthma 
Thorax  2002;57(8):677-682.
Background: Mucus plugging of the airways is invariably seen in cases of fatal asthma, mucus production is associated with asthma attacks, and the area of submucosal glands is increased in asthma. Mediators secreted from mast cells and neutrophils can stimulate mucous gland secretion. A study was undertaken to count the mast cells and neutrophils in submucosal glands and to relate cell numbers to the presence of mucus in the airway lumen.
Methods: Cartilaginous airways obtained at necropsy from cases of fatal asthma (n=8), non-fatal asthma (n=8), and control cases (n=8) were examined. Contiguous transverse sections were stained for mast cell tryptase and neutrophil elastase, and with Periodic Acid Schiff solution to identify mucus. Mucous gland area, lumen area, and the percentage of the relaxed lumen area occupied by mucus (mucus occupying ratio, MOR) were measured. Mast cells (intact and degranulated) and neutrophils per area of submucosal gland were calculated.
Results: Compared with controls, the cases of fatal asthma had increased mucous gland area, MOR, percentage of degranulated mast cells, and numbers of neutrophils in the submucosal glands (p<0.05). In cases of non-fatal asthma the MOR and the numbers of mast cells and neutrophils in the submucosal glands were increased (p<0.05). When all cases were pooled together, the MOR correlated with the total number of mast cells (r=0.55, p=0.005) and with the number of degranulated mast cells in the submucosal glands (r=0.51, p=0.013), but not with the number of neutrophils (r=0.21, p=0.121).
Conclusion: These results show that mucous gland area, MOR, and mucous gland inflammation are increased in asthma and that degranulation of mast cells may contribute to secretion of mucus into the lumen in cases of fatal asthma.
PMCID: PMC1746401  PMID: 12149526
22.  Effect of aging on pulmonary inflammation, airway hyperresponsiveness and T and B cell responses in antigen sensitized and challenged mice 
The effect of aging on several pathologic features of allergic-asthma (pulmonary inflammation, eosinophilia, mucus-hypersecretion), and their relationship with airway hyperresponsiveness (AHR) is not well characterized.
To evaluate lung inflammation, mucus-metaplasia and AHR in relationship to age in murine models of allergic-asthma comparing young and older mice.
Young (6-week) and older (6-, 12- 18-month) BALB/c mice were sensitized and challenged with ovalbumin (OVA). AHR and bronchoalveolar fluid (BALF) total inflammatory cell count and differential were measured. To evaluate mucus-metaplasia, quantitative PCR for the major airway mucin-associated gene, MUC-5AC, from lung tissue was measured, and lung tissue sections stained with periodic acid-Schiff (PAS) for goblet-cell enumeration. Lung tissue cytokine gene expression was determined by qPCR, and systemic cytokine protein levels by ELISA from spleen-cell cultures. Antigen-specific serum IgE was determined by ELISA.
AHR developed in both aged and young OVA-sensitized/challenged mice (OVA-mice), and was more significantly increased in young OVA-mice than in aged OVA-mice. However, BALF eosinophil numbers were significantly higher, and lung histology showed greater inflammation in aged OVA-mice than in young OVA-mice. MUC-5AC expression and numbers of PAS+ staining bronchial epithelial cells were significantly increased in the aged OVA-mice. All aged OVA-mice had increased IL-5 and IFN-γ mRNA expression in the lung and IL-5 and IFN-γ protein levels from spleen cell cultures compared to young OVA-mice. OVA-IgE was elevated to a greater extent in aged OVA-mice.
Although pulmonary inflammation and mucus-metaplasia after antigen sensitization/challenge occurred to a greater degree in older mice, the increase in AHR was significantly less compared with younger OVA-mice. Antigen treatment produced a unique cytokine profile in older mice (elevated IFN-γ and IL-5) compared with young mice (elevated IL-4 and IL-13). Thus, the airway response to inflammation is lessened in aging animals, and may represent age-associated events leading to different phenotypes in response to antigen provocation.
PMCID: PMC2818115  PMID: 17845421
Aging; murine; asthma; airway hyperresponsiveness; eosinophil; inflammation
23.  AGR2 Is Induced in Asthma and Promotes Allergen-Induced Mucin Overproduction 
Mucins are gel-forming proteins that are responsible for the characteristic viscoelastic properties of mucus. Mucin overproduction is a hallmark of asthma, but the cellular requirements for airway mucin production are poorly understood. The endoplasmic reticulum (ER) protein anterior gradient homolog 2 (AGR2) is required for production of the intestinal mucin MUC2, but its role in the production of the airway mucins MUC5AC and MUC5B is not established. Microarray data were analyzed to examine the relationship between AGR2 and MUC5AC expression in asthma. Immunofluorescence was used to localize AGR2 in airway cells. Coimmunoprecipitation was used to identify AGR2-immature MUC5AC complexes. Agr2−/− mice were used to determine the role of AGR2 in allergic airway disease. AGR2 localized to the ER of MUC5AC- and MUC5B-producing airway cells and formed a complex with immature MUC5AC. AGR2 expression increased together with MUC5AC expression in airway epithelium from “Th2-high” asthmatics. Allergen-challenged Agr2−/− mice had greater than 50% reductions in MUC5AC and MUC5B proteins compared with allergen-challenged wild-type mice. Impaired mucin production in Agr2−/− mice was accompanied by an increase in the proportion of mucins contained within the ER and by evidence of ER stress in airway epithelium. This study shows that AGR2 increases with mucin overproduction in individuals with asthma and in mouse models of allergic airway disease. AGR2 interacts with immature mucin in the ER and loss of AGR2 impairs allergen-induced MUC5AC and MUC5B overproduction.
PMCID: PMC3423459  PMID: 22403803
asthma; airway epithelium; mucus; endoplasmic reticulum stress; protein disulfide isomerase
24.  The gastrointestinal mucus system in health and disease 
Mucins—large, highly glycosylated proteins—are important for the luminal protection of the gastrointestinal tract. Enterocytes have their apical surface covered by transmembrane mucins and goblet cells produce the secreted gel-forming mucins that form mucus. The small intestine has a single unattached mucus layer. In cystic fibrosis, this layer becomes attached, accounting for the intestinal manifestations of this disease. The stomach and colon have two layers of mucus; the inner layer is attached and the outer layer is less dense and unattached. In the colon, the outer mucus layer is the habitat for commensal bacteria. The inner mucus layer is impervious to bacteria and is renewed every hour by surface goblet cells. The crypt goblet cells have the ability to restitute the mucus layer by secretion, for example after an ischaemic challenge. Proteases of certain parasites and some bacteria can cleave mucins and dissolve the mucus as part of their pathogenicity. The inner mucus layer can, however, also become penetrable to bacteria by several other mechanisms, including aberrations in the immune system. When bacteria reach the epithelial surface, the immune system is activated and inflammation is triggered. This mechanism might occur in some types of ulcerative colitis.
PMCID: PMC3758667  PMID: 23478383
25.  Formation of a fibrin based gelatinous coat over repairing rat gastric epithelium after acute ethanol damage: interaction with adherent mucus. 
Gut  1987;28(7):835-843.
A gelatinous coat, heterogeneous in appearance, was formed over damaged rat gastric mucosa recovering from acute ethanol injury. This coat, in places 1.6 mm thick (median thickness 680 microns), was 10 times thicker than the translucent layer of adherent mucus (median thickness 70 microns) covering the undamaged mucosa. Immunohistochemistry and periodic acid Schiff staining showed this gelatinous coat to be predominantly a fibrin gel with an exterior layer rich in mucus and necrotic cells. The plasma clotting time was significantly decreased in vitro by pig gastric mucus gel and soluble mucus glycoprotein (90% and 13% respectively) suggesting that in vivo the mucus layer remaining after epithelial damage could act as a template for fibrinogen-fibrin conversion. These results show that a fibrin based gelatinous coat, quite distinct from the adherent mucus layer and with considerable protective potential could be formed over the repairing rat gastric mucosa after acute ethanol damage.
PMCID: PMC1433072  PMID: 3653751

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