Human mucin MUC3 and rodent Muc3 are widely assumed to represent secretory mucins expressed in columnar and goblet cells of the intestine. Using a 3'-oligonucleotide probe and in situ hybridization, we observed expression of rat Muc3 mostly in columnar cells. Two antibodies specific for COOH-terminal epitopes of Muc3 localized to apical membranes and cytoplasm of columnar cells. An antibody to the tandem repeat (TR) sequence (TTTPDV)3, however, localized to both columnar and goblet cells. On CsCl gradients, Muc3 appeared in both light- and heavy-density fractions. The lighter species was immunoreactive with all three antibodies, whereas the heavier species reacted only with anti-TR antibody. Thus Muc3 is expressed in two forms, a full-length membrane-associated form found in columnar cells (light density) and a carboxyl-truncated soluble form present in goblet cells (heavy density). In a mouse model of human cystic fibrosis, both soluble Muc3 and goblet cell Muc2 were increased in amount and hypersecreted. Thus Muc2 and Muc3 contribute to the excess intestinal luminal mucus of cystic fibrosis mice.