Mucins from human whole saliva, as well as from respiratory- and cervical-tract secretions, were subjected to density-gradient centrifugation in CsCl/0.5 M guanidinium chloride. A polydisperse population of MUC5B mucins was demonstrated in all samples using anti-peptide antisera (LUM5B-2, LUM5B-3 and LUM5B-4) raised against sequences within the MUC5B mucin. The sequences recognized by the LUM5B-2 and LUM5B-3 antisera are located within the domains flanking the highly glycosylated regions of MUC5B, and reduction increased the reactivity with these antibodies, suggesting that the epitopes are partially shielded and that these regions are folded and stabilized by disulphide bonds. Rate-zonal centrifugation before and after reduction showed MUC5B to be a large oligomeric mucin composed of disulphide-linked subunits. In saliva and respiratory-tract secretions, populations of MUC5B mucins with different charge densities were identified by ion-exchange HPLC, suggesting the presence of MUC5B ‘glycoforms ’. In trachea, the F2 monoclonal antibody against the sulpho-Lewis C structure reacted preferentially with the later-to-be-eluted populations. An antibody (LUM5B-4) recognizing a sequence in the C-terminal domain of MUC5B identified, after reduction, the mucin subunits as well as smaller fragments, suggesting that some of the MUC5B mucins are cleaved within the C-terminal domain. Immunohistochemistry revealed that MUC5B is produced by cells dispersed throughout the human submandibular and sublingual glands, in the airway submucosal glands as well as the goblet cells, and in the epithelium and glands of the endocervix. The F2 antibody stained a subpopulation of the MUC5B-producing cells in the airway submucosal glands, suggesting that different cells may produce different glycoforms of MUC5B in this tissue.

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