Viscous fingering of HCl through gastric mucin

Nature. 1992 Dec 3;360(6403):458-61. doi: 10.1038/360458a0.


The HCl in the mammalian stomach is concentrated enough to digest the stomach itself, yet the gastric epithelium remains undamaged. One protective factor is gastric mucus, which forms a protective layer over the surface epithelium and acts as a diffusion barrier Bicarbonate ions secreted by the gastric epithelium are trapped in the mucus gel, establishing a gradient from pH 1-2 at the lumen to pH 6-7 at the cell surface. How does HCl, secreted at the base of gastric glands by parietal cells, traverse the mucus layer without acidifying it? Here we demonstrate that injection of HCl through solutions of pig gastric mucin produces viscous fingering patterns dependent on pH, mucin concentration and acid flow rate. Above pH 4, discrete fingers are observed, whereas below pH 4, HCl neither penetrates the mucin solution nor forms fingers. Our in vitro results suggest that HCl secreted by the gastric gland can penetrate the mucus gel layer (pH 5-7) through narrow fingers, whereas HCl in the lumen (pH 2) is prevented from diffusing back to the epithelium by the high viscosity of gastric mucus gel on the luminal side.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Gastric Mucosa / physiology*
  • Hydrochloric Acid / metabolism*
  • Mucins / physiology*
  • Swine
  • Video Recording
  • Viscosity


  • Mucins
  • Hydrochloric Acid