In this review the main characteristics, i.e., structure, function and gene expression, of the different mucins are discussed. Mucin-type molecules consist of a core protein moiety (apomucin) where a number of carbohydrate chains are attached to serines and threonines by glycosidic bonds. O-linked carbohydrates form up to 80% of the molecule and the length of the glucidic side chains varies from one to more than 20 residues. At least eight mucin-like genes have been isolated so far, and the main characteristic is the presence of a central domain composed of a variable number of "tandem repeats". The sequence homology of the central domain among the different members of the mucin-type family is limited, indicating that this internal domain is unique for each mucin. Thanks to the integrated results of genetic, immunological and biochemical studies, it is now possible to identify eight apomucin genes, namely MUC1, MUC2, MUC3, MUC4, MUC5AC, MUC5B, MUC6 and MUC7. MUC1 is the best characterized mucin and it is expressed on the apical surface of most polarized epithelial cells. The MUC1 gene has been cloned and sequenced. The MUC2 gene encodes a typical secretory gel-forming mucin which represents the predominant form in human intestinal and colon tissues. Another intestinal mucin is MUC3. The MUC4, MUC5AC and MUC5B genes have been isolated from a bronchial tissue cDNA library. The MUC4 and MUC5AC genes are mainly expressed in the respiratory tract, in gastric and reproductive mucosa, while MUC5B is highly detectable only in the bronchial glands. The MUC6 gene is expressed by gastric tissue and, recently, MUC7 has been cloned and sequenced using a salivary cDNA library.