The interaction of serum albumin with a model epithelial mucin from pig stomach was explored by rotary viscometry. During 30 min of incubation of human serum albumin(20mg/ml) and pig gastric mucin (8mg/ml) in iso-osmotic buffers at 37 degrees C, the solution became markedly viscous. Viscosity enhancement was proportional to albumin concentration (2-40mg/ml), was most pronounced under conditions of low shear rate (less than 45S-1), and was considerably greater than the additive or multiplicative viscosity values calculated from albumin or mucin solutions measured separately. The viscous mucin-albumin complex was destroyed by high shear rates (greater than 90S-1), but slowly re-formed under zero shear conditions. Elevation of pH (7 to 9), ionic strength (0.1 to 1.0), and addition of disodium EDTA (5mM) did not cause marked or specific alterations in the viscosity of the mixture, suggesting that electrostatic interactions probably do not stabilize mucin-albumin complexes. Urea (7M) and heating (35 to 55 degrees C) caused a major increase in the viscosity of mucin and mucin-albumin mixtures, suggesting that rupture of hydrogen bonds, unfolding and partial denaturation of mucin promotes greater intertangling (possibly hydrophobic interactions) between mucin and albumin molecules. The implications of mucin-albumin interaction in diseases associated with mucus obstruction are briefly discussed.

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