Disulphide bonds between thiolated polymers (thiomers) and cysteine-rich subdomains of mucus glycoproteins are supposed to be responsible for the enhanced mucoadhesive properties of thiomers. This study set out to provide evidence for these covalent interactions using poly(acrylic acid)-cysteine conjugates of 2 and 450 kDa (PAA2-Cys, PAA450-Cys) displaying 402.5-776.0 micromol thiol groups per gram polymer. The effect of the disulphide bond breaker cysteine on thiomer-mucin disulphide bonds was monitored by (1) mucoadhesion studies and (2) rheological studies. Furthermore, (3) diffusion studies and (4) gel filtration studies were performed with thiomer-mucus mixtures. The addition of cysteine significantly (P<0.01) reduced the adhesion of thiomer tablets to porcine mucosa and G'/G" values of thiomer-mucin mixtures, whereas unthiolated controls were not influenced. These results indicate the cleavage of disulphide bonds between thiomer and mucus glycoproteins. Diffusion studies demonstrated that a 12.8-fold higher concentration of the thiomer (PAA2-Cys) remains in the mucin gel than the corresponding unmodified polymer. Gel filtration studies showed that PAA2-Cys was able to form disulphide bonds with mucin glycoproteins resulting in an altered elution profile of the mucin/PAA2-Cys mixture in comparison to mucin alone or mucin/PAA2 mixture. According to these results, the study provides evidence for the formation of covalent bonds between thiomer and mucus glycoproteins.