Proceedings of the Nutrition Society

Session: Physiological aspects of fibre

Colonic mucin: methods of measuring mucus thickness

Vicki Strugalaa1 c1, Adrian Allena1, Peter W. Dettmara2 and Jeffrey P. Pearsona1

a1 Department of Physiological Sciences, Medical School, Framlington Place, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE2 4HH, UK

a2 Reckitt Benckiser Healthcare (UK) Ltd, Dansom Lane, Kingston upon Hull, HU8 7DS, UK


Mucus is a water-insoluble gel secreted by the gastrointestinal tract. It exists as a protective gel layer adherent to the epithelial surface of the stomach, small intestine and colon. The mucus gel is composed of 1–10% (w/v) mucin glycoprotein in a plasma-like fluid. Since the mucus gel is predominantly water, standard histological techniques dehydrate the mucus, making visualisation of the functional barrier difficult. Specialist techniques have been developed to enable visualisation of the intact mucus layer. A simple histological method using snap-frozen tissue, sectioned with a cryostat and stained with modified periodic acid-Schiff s/Alcian blue in mucus-preserving conditions will be described. A second powerful in vivo animal model is described which enables measurement of mucus secretion over time. The use of these two methods has allowed the characterisation of the normal mucus layer in the colon and the determination of how it is affected by disease and dietary intervention, in particular the effect of dietary fibre, and evidence that fibre deficiency results in colonic mucosal fragility is presented.


c1 *Corresponding author: Dr Vicki Strugala, Present address: Reckitt Benckiser Healthcare (UK) Ltd, Dansom Lane, Kingston upon Hull HU8 7DS, UK, fax +44 1482 582358,