Mucins – Slimy Viral Defences

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It is probably true to state that most of us are not attracted to the idea that mucus is a substance we should really spend any substantive time investigating. But as far as our wet tissues are concerned this is the neighbour they all want on their side. This sticky gloop contributes to mucosal immunity by allowing nutrients and other valuable molecules to pass whilst preventing pathogen adhesion.

A team of MIT researchers have added to our understanding of mucins and their molecular structure through their comprehension of their antiviral activity.[1]

The failure of these mucins may account for some of the inter-individual variation of infection susceptibility, as the mucin production is affected by diet, age and even seasons.

The team discovered that exposing mucins and epithelial cells to a high salt concentration decreased mucin permeability and may account for some of the benefits seen with a salt water gargle.

If this is true, then mucins would be an interesting supplement for hygiene or health products, or lubricants to support the natural immune system. Obtaining large quantities of mucins from human sources such as breast milk is difficult, though. The mucosa of porcine stomachs, from which mucins can be isolated in bulk, could provide an attractive alternative source for mucin glycoproteins. Indeed, porcine gastric mucins have previously been used as a component of artificial saliva for the treatment of subjects suffering from salivary insufficiency (xerostomia).


[1] Lieleg O, Lieleg C, Bloom J, Buck CB, Ribbeck K. Mucin biopolymers as broad-spectrum antiviral agents. Biomacromolecules. 2012 Apr 4. View Abstract View Full Paper

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