Mucins in the mucosal barrier to infection

Mucosal Immunol. 2008 May;1(3):183-97. doi: 10.1038/mi.2008.5. Epub 2008 Mar 5.


The mucosal tissues of the gastrointestinal, respiratory, reproductive, and urinary tracts, and the surface of the eye present an enormous surface area to the exterior environment. All of these tissues are covered with resident microbial flora, which vary considerably in composition and complexity. Mucosal tissues represent the site of infection or route of access for the majority of viruses, bacteria, yeast, protozoa, and multicellular parasites that cause human disease. Mucin glycoproteins are secreted in large quantities by mucosal epithelia, and cell surface mucins are a prominent feature of the apical glycocalyx of all mucosal epithelia. In this review, we highlight the central role played by mucins in accommodating the resident commensal flora and limiting infectious disease, interplay between underlying innate and adaptive immunity and mucins, and the strategies used by successful mucosal pathogens to subvert or avoid the mucin barrier, with a particular focus on bacteria.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Active
  • Immunity, Innate
  • Immunity, Mucosal
  • Infections / immunology*
  • Infections / microbiology
  • Infections / virology
  • Mucins / biosynthesis
  • Mucins / chemistry
  • Mucins / metabolism*
  • Mucous Membrane / immunology*
  • Mucous Membrane / microbiology*
  • Protein Conformation


  • Mucins