Mucins and inflammatory bowel disease

Postgrad Med J. 2000 Aug;76(898):473-8. doi: 10.1136/pmj.76.898.473.


There is a layer of mucus lining the gastrointestinal tract, which acts as both a lubricant and as a physical barrier between luminal contents and the mucosal surface. The mucins that make up this layer consist of a protein backbone with oligosaccharides attached to specific areas of the protein core. These areas are called the variable number tandem repeat regions. The degree of glycosylation of the mucins is central to their role in the mucus barrier. The oligosaccharides are variable and complex. It has been demonstrated that the degree of sulphation and sialylation and the length of the oligosaccharide chains all vary in inflammatory bowel disease. These changes can alter the function of the mucins. Mucins are broadly divided into two groups, those that are secreted and those that are membrane bound. The major mucins present in the colorectum are MUC1, MUC2, MUC3, and MUC4. Trefoils are a group of small peptides that have an important role in the mucus layer. Three trefoils have been demonstrated so far. They seem to play a part in mucosal protection and in mucosal repair. They may help to stabilise the mucus layer by cross linking with mucins to aid formation of stable gels. Trefoils can be expressed in the ulcer associated cell lineage, a glandular structure that can occur in the inflamed mucosa. There seem to be differences in the expression of trefoils in the colon and the small bowel, which may imply different method of mucosal repair.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Glycosylation
  • Humans
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / genetics
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / metabolism*
  • Intestinal Mucosa / physiology
  • Mucins / genetics
  • Mucins / physiology*
  • Oligosaccharides / metabolism
  • Peptides / physiology
  • Tandem Repeat Sequences / physiology


  • Mucins
  • Oligosaccharides
  • Peptides