The epithelial mucin, MUC1, of milk, mammary gland and other tissues

Biochim Biophys Acta. 1995 Dec 20;1241(3):407-23. doi: 10.1016/0304-4157(95)00014-3.


MUC1 is a mucin-type glycoprotein that is integrally disposed in the apical plasma membrane of the lactating epithelial cell and protrudes from the cell surface into the alveolar lumen where milk is stored. Envelopment of milk fat globules by this membrane accomplishes their secretion and conveys MUC1 into milk. The human form of this mucin has been detected in many other organs, tissues and body fluids. It projects from the cell surface as long filaments. In the human and a number of other species, MUC1 is polymorphic due to variable numbers of a tandemly repeated segment 20 amino acids in length. The individual codominantly expresses two alleles for the mucin so that differences in its size among individuals and between the two forms of an individual are observed. The tandem repeats are rich in serines and threonines which serve as O-glycosylation sites. Carbohydrate content of MUC1, as isolated from milk of human, bovine and guinea pig, is approximately 50%. The oligosaccharides carry substantial sialic acid at their termini and this accounts for two putative functions of this mucin, i.e., to keep ducts and lumens open by creating a strong negative charge on the surface of epithelial cells which would repel opposite sides of a vessel, and to bind certain pathogenic microorganisms. MUC1 is protease resistant (trypsin, chymotrypsin and pepsin) and large fragments of it can be found in the feces of some but not all breast-fed infants. MUC1 has a highly varied structure because of its polymorphism, qualitative and quantitative variations in its glycosylation between tissues, individuals and species, and differences due to divergence in the nucleotide sequences among species. Sequencing of the MUC1 gene for various species is showing promise of revealing unique evolutionary relationships and has already indicated conserved aspects of the molecule that may be functionally important. Among these are positions of serine, threonine and proline in the tandem repeats and a high degree of homology in the transmembrane and cytoplasmic segments of the molecule.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • Carbohydrate Sequence
  • Cattle
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mammary Glands, Animal / chemistry*
  • Milk / chemistry*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Mucin-1* / analysis
  • Mucin-1* / chemistry
  • Mucin-1* / genetics
  • Mucin-1* / physiology
  • Tissue Distribution


  • Mucin-1