We have isolated the high-Mr mucins from growth medium of the early stage of an HT-29 cell culture by gel chromatography and isopycnic density gradient centrifugation. The mucins (buoyant density 1.34-1.44 g/ml) were reactive with an anti-peptide antiserum (MAN-5ACI) raised against a sequence from within the MUC5AC mucin. Similar antisera raised against the MUC2 and MUC5B mucins were not reactive. The MUC5AC reduced-mucin subunits exhibited a homogeneous charge distribution on anion-exchange chromatography, but appeared as two bands, one major and one more minor, after agarose gel electrophoresis. The unreduced mucins had an average Mr in excess of 40 MDa and were visualized in the electron microscope as large, fine filamentous threads (many microns in length) that after reduction were greatly reduced in size (number average length 570 nm). Agarose gel electrophoresis of unreduced MUC5AC mucins identified a major band just entering the gel with evidence of a ‘ladder’ of faster-migrating minor bands. Partial reduction of the mucins increased the proportion of the faster bands and at least 16 could be discriminated. Mr measurements showed that these bands differed by single monomer units. The mucins behaved as very stiff extended structures in solution and this characteristic might explain the poor separation of different-sized oligomers in sedimentation-rate experiments. The cell-culture mucin preparation had similar characteristics of charge and buoyant density to MUC5AC mucins from respiratory secretions in vivo. In addition the MUC5AC mucin from respiratory tract secretions exhibited similar behaviour, reduced and unreduced on agarose gel electrophoresis, indicating that the mucin has a similar molecular phenotype in vivo and in vitro.

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