A sensitive assay for mucus glycoproteins (mucins) and fragments thereof is presented. The macromolecules are blotted onto nitrocellulose membranes and visualized using a periodate-Schiff (PAS) reaction and the color yield quantitated with an image analysis system used as a reflectance densitometer. At least 50 ng of the macromolecules was detected. "Whole" mucins and subunits were assayed on 0.2-micron pore size nitrocellulose membranes whereas immobilization of the high-molecular-weight mucin glycopeptides (Mr 300-500,000) required pretreatment of membranes with poly-L-lysine. Binding of the glycopeptides to the polylysine-treated membranes was found to decrease with increasing salt concentration suggesting an electrostatic interaction. The data obtained with this method and a solution PAS assay are in good agreement but the former is more sensitive and can be performed on samples dissolved in chaotropic solvents.