Mucin genes, both secreted (MUC2, MUC5AC, MUC5B, MUC7) and membrane associated (MUC1, MUC4, MUC16), have been reported to be expressed by ocular surface epithelia. The purpose of this study was to comprehensively assay the mucin content of human tear fluid using multiple antibodies for each mucin and to develop a sensitive, semi-quantitative method for the assay of mucins in tears. Tear washes were obtained by instillation of saline onto the ocular surface, followed by collection from the inferior fornix. Tear proteins were separated in 1% agarose gels, transferred to nitrocellulose membrane by vacuum blotting and probed with multiple antibodies recognizing MUC1, MUC2, MUC4, MUC5AC, MUC5B, MUC7 and MUC16. Binding was detected using chemiluminescence, and quantity was determined by densitometry. Serial dilutions of pooled tears from normal individuals were assayed to determine the linear range of detectability. MUC1, MUC4, MUC16, MUC5AC and low levels of MUC2 were consistently detected in human tear fluid, while MUC5B and MUC7 were not. Use of several antibodies recognizing different epitopes on the same mucin confirmed these findings. The antibodies to mucins bound to serial dilutions of tears in a linear fashion (r2 > 0.9), indicating the feasibility of semi-quantitation. MUC5AC in tear fluid had an increased electrophoretic mobility compared to MUC5AC isolated from conjunctival tissue. This study provides clear evidence that the mucin component of tears is a mixture of secreted and shed membrane-associated mucins, and for the first time demonstrates MUC16 in tear fluid. Immunoblots of tears using agarose gel electrophoresis and chemiluminescence detection provide a semi-quantitative assay for mucin protein that will be useful for comparisons with tears from diseased eyes or after pharmacological intervention.