Pharmacological approaches to discovery and development of new mucolytic agents

Adv Drug Deliv Rev. 2002 Dec 5;54(11):1475-90. doi: 10.1016/s0169-409x(02)00156-4.


Airway mucus is the secretory product of the mucous cells; it is a variable mixture of water, mucous glycoproteins, low molecular weight ions, proteins, and lipids, whose physical properties are important for airway defense. The factors that contribute to the physical properties of mucus are complex, and there are a number of pharmacological strategies that can potentially serve to improve the clearability of airway mucus. Novel mucoactive approaches include strategies for mucoregulation--decreasing the abnormal volume of mucus secretion--and medications designed to improve the cough clearability of airway secretions. In vitro results suggest potential benefits from the additive effects of selected combinations of mucoactive medications. Further studies are required to confirm these findings, to perform direct assessments of mucus clearability, and to extend the observations to patients with various types of pulmonary diseases where mucoactive treatments are required.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cystic Fibrosis / drug therapy
  • Cystic Fibrosis / physiopathology
  • Drug Design
  • Drug Synergism
  • Expectorants / pharmacology*
  • Expectorants / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Mucociliary Clearance / drug effects
  • Mucus / chemistry
  • Mucus / metabolism*
  • Respiratory Physiological Phenomena / drug effects*


  • Expectorants