In this study we present data on the entire population of MUC2 molecules secreted from and within the cell layer of an intestinal cell line. The molecular size distribution of the extracted molecules and their reactivity with two different MUC2 polypeptide antibodies indicated the presence of precursor and mature forms of the mucin. Oligomerized forms of the mucin were found in both the cell layer and medium; however, precursor forms were confined to the cell layer. Isopycnic density gradient centrifugation gave good resolution of mature and precursor forms of MUC2 as assessed by agarose gel electrophoresis. Three different populations of MUC2 were identified: one at low density (>1.3 g/ml) containing the N-glycosylated, non-O-glycosylated polypeptide; a second at intermediate density (1.3-1.35 g/ml) which may represent partially O-glycosylated intermediates; and a third at high density (1.36-1.48 g/ml) containing the mature MUC2 mucins. Rate-zonal centrifugation and agarose electrophoretic analysis of the low-density fraction indicated that the N-glycosylated MUC2 polypeptide was present as putative monomer and dimer/oligomer species. The combination of isopycnic density gradient centrifugation with agarose electrophoresis provides a new and simple approach that allows us to follow the MUC2 gene product from polypeptide through to the mature glycosylated mucin.