Distribution of mucins at the ocular surface

Exp Eye Res. 2004 Mar;78(3):379-88. doi: 10.1016/s0014-4835(03)00204-5.


Mucins are vital for maintenance of a healthy, wet ocular surface. Once only thought to be secreted by goblet cells, mucins are now also known to be of the membrane-associated type. Stratified ocular surface epithelia express at their apical-tear fluid surface a repertoire of membrane-associated mucins including MUC1, MUC4, MUC16. These mucins are concentrated on the tips of the microplicae, forming a dense glycocalyx at the epithelial tear film interface. A major mucin of the secretory class is the goblet-cell-derived gel-forming mucin MUC5AC. A small soluble mucin, MUC7, is expressed by the lacrimal gland acini. Our hypothesis of the role/distribution of the secreted and membrane-associated mucins at the ocular surface is that the secreted mucins are soluble in the tear fluid, and are moved about and shunted to the nasolacrimal duct and by the eyelids during blinking. Thus, in the tears, the secreted mucins act as clean-up/debris removing multimeric networks that at the same time, through their hydrophilic nature, hold fluids in place and harbor defense molecules secreted by the lacrimal gland. Membrane-associated mucins, on the other hand, form a dense barrier in the glycocalyx at the epithelial tear film interface. This barrier prevents pathogen penetrance and is a lubricating surface that allows lid epithelia to glide over the corneal epithelia without adherence. The secreted mucins move easily over the glycocalyx mucins because both have anionic character that creates repulsive forces between them. Little is known regarding regulation of expression and glycosylation of mucins by ocular surface epithelia. Since ocular surface drying diseases alter both goblet cell and mucin production, and production and glycosylation of membrane-associated mucins, studies of mucin gene regulation and glycosylation may yield treatment modalities for these diseases.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Conjunctiva / metabolism*
  • Epithelial Cells / metabolism
  • Epithelium, Corneal / metabolism*
  • Eye Diseases / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Lacrimal Apparatus / metabolism
  • Mucins / metabolism*
  • Tears / metabolism


  • Mucins