The body's mucosal surfaces are protected from pathogens and physical and chemical attack by the gel-like extracellular matrix, mucus. The framework of this barrier is provided by polymeric, gel-forming mucins. These enormous O-linked glycoproteins are synthesised, stored and secreted by goblet cells that are also the source of other protective factors. Immune regulation of goblet cells during the course of infection impacts on mucin production and properties and ultimately upon barrier function. The barrier function of mucins in protection of the host is well accepted as an important aspect of innate defence. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that mucins have a much more direct role in combating pathogens and parasites and are an important part of the coordinated immune response to infection. Of particular relevance to this review is the finding that mucins are essential anti-parasitic effector molecules. The current understanding of the roles of these multifunctional glycoproteins, and other goblet cell products, in mucosal defence against intestinal dwelling nematodes is discussed.
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