Mucins, Mucus, and Goblet Cells

Chest. 2018 Jul;154(1):169-176. doi: 10.1016/j.chest.2017.11.008. Epub 2017 Nov 21.


The respiratory epithelium is lined by mucus, a gel consisting of water, ions, proteins, and macromolecules. The major macromolecular components of mucus are the mucin glycoproteins, which are critical for local defense of the airway. There are three classes of mucins in the airways: those that are secreted but do not polymerize (MUC7), those that are secreted and polymerize to form gels (MUC5AC, MUC5B), and those that have transmembrane domains and are cell surface associated (MUC1, MUC4, MUC16, MUC20). The mucins are regulated at the transcriptional, posttranscriptional, and epigenetic levels, and posttranslational modifications play an important role in mucin binding and clearance of microbes and pollutants. The development of mice deficient in specific mucins, and the cystic fibrosis pig, has greatly advanced our understanding of the role of mucins as innate immune mediators and how mucins and mucus contribute to lung disease. These observations suggest new strategies to ameliorate mucus obstruction by targeting mucociliary clearance and mucin hyperconcentration. Furthermore, a polymorphism in the promoter of MUC5B is strongly associated with risk of developing pulmonary fibrosis, supporting a novel function for MUC5B to influence interstitial lung disease. Exciting new data support the concept not only that mucins and mucus are important for lung homeostasis and protection from environmental threats but also that goblet cells play an important role as regulators of innate immune function. These insights into the innate immune properties of mucins and goblet cells support a shift from the current paradigm of repressing increased mucin expression to targeting regulation of specific mucins and the abnormal airway milieu.

Keywords: COPD; asthma; cystic fibrosis; goblet cell; mucin.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Airway Remodeling
  • Animals
  • Cystic Fibrosis* / metabolism
  • Cystic Fibrosis* / pathology
  • Cystic Fibrosis* / physiopathology
  • Goblet Cells / metabolism*
  • Goblet Cells / pathology
  • Humans
  • Mucins / metabolism*
  • Mucociliary Clearance
  • Mucus / metabolism*


  • Mucins