To understand the mucociliary clearance system, mucins were visualized by light, confocal and electron microscopy, and mucus was stained by Alcian blue and tracked by video microscopy on tracheal explants of newborn piglets. We observed long linear mucus bundles that appeared at the submucosal gland openings and were transported cephalically. The mucus bundles were shown by mass spectrometry and immunostaining to have a core made of MUC5B mucin and were coated with MUC5AC mucin produced by surface goblet cells. The transport speed of the bundles was slower than the airway surface liquid flow. We suggest that the goblet cell MUC5AC mucin anchors the mucus bundles and thus controls their transport. Normal clearance of the respiratory tree of pigs and humans, both rich in submucosal glands, is performed by thick and long mucus bundles.
Keywords: Airway surface liquid; Lung; MUC5AC; Mucus; Respiratory tract.
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