Oral delivery is the most common method for drug administration. However, poor solubility, stability, and bioavailability of many drugs make achieving therapeutic levels via the gastrointestinal (GI) tract challenging. Drug delivery must overcome numerous hurdles, including the acidic gastric environment and the continuous secretion of mucus that protects the GI tract. Nanoparticle drug carriers that can shield drugs from degradation and deliver them to intended sites within the GI tract may enable more efficient and sustained drug delivery. However, the rapid secretion and shedding of GI tract mucus can significantly limit the effectiveness of nanoparticle drug delivery systems. Many types of nanoparticles are efficiently trapped in and rapidly removed by mucus, making controlled release in the GI tract difficult. This review addresses the protective barrier properties of mucus secretions, how mucus affects the fate of orally administered nanoparticles, and recent developments in nanoparticles engineered to penetrate the mucus barrier.
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