MG2 (the MUC7 gene product) is a low-molecular-mass mucin found in human submandibular/sublingual secretions. This mucin is believed to agglutinate a variety of microbes and thus is considered an important component of the non-immune host defence system in the oral cavity. We have shown that MUC7 can bind to cariogenic strains of Streptococcus mutans and that this binding requires a structural determinant in the N-terminal region. In the present study an expression construct, pNMuc7, encoding the N-terminal 144 amino acids of MUC7 was generated, and the recombinant protein rNMUC7 was expressed in Escherichia coli. Purified rNMUC7 was characterized and the binding of this protein to oral bacteria was investigated in an established assay. The results showed that the recombinant protein bound to S. mutans ATCC 25175 and ATCC 33402, and that alkylation of the two cysteine residues (Cys45 and Cys50) resulted in the complete loss of bacterial binding. This suggests that binding of MUC7 to S. mutans occurs between the N-terminal region of the mucin molecule and the bacterial surface, and that this interaction is dependent on a cysteine-containing domain within this region of MUC7. In addition, the killing activity of rNMUC7 was compared with that of the candidacidal salivary protein histatin 5 in an established Candida albicans (ATCC 44505) blastoconidia killing assay. It was found that the LD50 values of rNMUC7 and histatin 5 were comparable, and that the recombinant protein displayed significant killing activity at the physiological concentration range of MUC7 in whole saliva. This study is the first to show that the N-terminal region of MUC7 contains a structural determinant for bacterial binding and that this region exhibits candidacidal activity.

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