Pseudomyxoma peritonei, a syndrome first described by Karl F. Rokitansky in 1842, is an enigmatic, often fatal intra-abdominal disease characterized by dissecting gelatinous ascites and multifocal peritoneal epithelial implants secreting copious globules of extracellular mucin. Although past interest in the syndrome has focused on the questions of the site of origin (appendix versus ovary), mechanisms of peritoneal spread (multicentricity, redistribution phenomenon, or metastasis), and the degree of malignant transformation present (adenoma, borderline tumor, or carcinoma), another important question is the mechanism behind the accumulation of extracellular mucin, the real cause of the disease's morbidity and mortality irrespective of the site of origin, mechanism of peritoneal spread, or transformed status of its epithelium. Taking advantage of the recently cloned human mucin genes, we decided to investigate this question. Our studies revealed that pseudomyxoma peritonei is a disease of MUC2-expressing goblet cells. These cells also express MUC5AC but the latter mucin is not specific for pseudomyxoma peritonei. MUC2 expression accounts for the voluminous deposits of extracellular mucin (mucin:cell ratios exceeding 10:1) and distinguishes pseudomyxoma peritonei secondarily involving the ovary from primary ovarian mucinous tumors with peritoneal implants. Because mucinous tumors of the appendix similarly express MUC2, the MUC2 expression profile also supports an appendiceal rather than ovarian origin for pseudomyxoma peritonei. Increased steady-state mRNA is observed in pooled cases of pseudomyxoma peritonei but does not occur on the basis of gene rearrangement or gene amplification. Primary epithelial cell cultures obtained from pseudomyxoma peritonei express MUC2 whose levels can be epigenetically regulated. These lines up-regulate MUC2 expression in response to both methylation inhibition by 5-azacytidine and exposure to Pseudomonas aeruginosa lipopolysaccharide, both of whose effects can be suppressed by genistein pretreatment. Both immunocytochemical as well as in situ hybridization studies with ancillary digital image analysis reveal that MUC2 expression in cases of pseudomyxoma peritonei is independent of the degrees of malignant transformation that are present and, in fact, reflects the constitutive levels of expression observed in normal goblet cells of the appendix. Extracellular mucin accumulates dramatically in pseudomyxoma peritonei because the number of MUC2-secreting cells dramatically increase and because this MUC2 has no place to drain. These studies suggest that pseudomyxoma peritonei should be regarded as a disease of MUC2-expressing goblet cells whose MUC2 expression might be susceptible to pharmacological targeting.