An ex vivo method for studying mucus formation, properties, and thickness in human colonic biopsies and mouse small and large intestinal explants

Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2012 Feb 15;302(4):G430-8. doi: 10.1152/ajpgi.00405.2011. Epub 2011 Dec 8.


The colon mucus layers minimize the contact between the luminal flora and the epithelial cells, and defects in this barrier may lead to colonic inflammation. We now describe an ex vivo method for analysis of mucus properties in human colon and mouse small and large intestine. Intestinal explants were mounted in horizontal perfusion chambers. The mucus surface was visualized by adding charcoal particles on the apical side, and mucus thickness was measured using a micropipette. Mucus thickness, adhesion, and growth rate were recorded for 1 h. In mouse and human colon, the ability of the mucus to act as a barrier to beads the size of bacteria was also evaluated. Tissue viability was monitored by transepithelial potential difference. In mouse ileum, the mucus could be removed by gentle aspiration, whereas in colon ∼40 μm of the mucus remained attached to the epithelial surface. Both mouse and human colon had an inner mucus layer that was not penetrated by the fluorescent beads. Spontaneous mucus growth was observed in human (240 μm/h) and mouse (100 μm/h) colon but not in mouse ileum. In contrast, stimulation with carbachol induced a higher mucus secretion in ileum than colon (mouse ileum: Δ200 μm, mouse colon: Δ130 μm, human colon: Δ140 μm). In conclusion, while retaining key properties from the mucus system in vivo, this setup also allows for studies of the highly dynamic mucus system under well-controlled conditions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Colon / anatomy & histology
  • Colon / pathology
  • Colon / physiology*
  • Epithelial Cells / microbiology
  • Epithelial Cells / pathology
  • Humans
  • Ileum / anatomy & histology
  • Ileum / physiology*
  • Intestinal Mucosa / anatomy & histology
  • Intestinal Mucosa / pathology
  • Intestinal Mucosa / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Mucus / cytology
  • Mucus / microbiology
  • Mucus / physiology*