Barrier properties of mucus

Adv Drug Deliv Rev. 2009 Feb 27;61(2):75-85. doi: 10.1016/j.addr.2008.09.008. Epub 2008 Dec 16.


Mucus is tenacious. It sticks to most particles, preventing their penetration to the epithelial surface. Multiple low-affinity hydrophobic interactions play a major role in these adhesive interactions. Mucus gel is also shear-thinning, making it an excellent lubricant that ensures an unstirred layer of mucus remains adherent to the epithelial surface. Thus nanoparticles (NP) must diffuse readily through the unstirred adherent layer if they are to contact epithelial cells efficiently. This article reviews some of the physiological and biochemical properties that form the mucus barrier. Capsid viruses can diffuse through mucus as rapidly as through water and thereby penetrate to the epithelium even though they have to diffuse 'upstream' through mucus that is being continuously secreted. These viruses are smaller than the mucus mesh spacing, and have surfaces that do not stick to mucus. They form a useful model for developing NP for mucosal drug delivery.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adhesiveness
  • Animals
  • Elasticity
  • Humans
  • Mucins / metabolism
  • Mucous Membrane / metabolism
  • Mucous Membrane / physiology*
  • Mucous Membrane / virology
  • Mucus / metabolism
  • Mucus / physiology*
  • Mucus / virology
  • Viscosity


  • Mucins