We have developed a new approach to study the molecular organization of salivary mucus and salivary mucins using confocal fluorescence recovery after photobleaching (confocal-FRAP). MUC5B mucin, its reduced subunit and T-domains were prepared from saliva and fluorescently labelled. The translational self-diffusion coefficients were determined up to 3.6mg/ml by confocal-FRAP. The results suggest that, in solutions of purified MUC5B mucin, at concentrations at which the hydrodynamic domains overlap, the intermolecular interactions are predominantly due to dynamic entanglements, and there was no evidence of specific self-association of MUC5B mucin, or of its subunits, or T-domains. The analysis of the salivary mucus gel also showed no specific interactions with the purified MUC5B components, but it was much less permeable than expected from its MUC5B content. The saliva was completely permeable to microspheres of 207nm diameter, but showed size-dependent effects on the diffusion of larger microspheres (499nm and 711nm diameter). From these analyses the salivary mucus was shown to be both permeable and dynamic, and with the characteristics of a semi-dilute transient network at physiological concentration. Comparison of the results from saliva and purified MUC5B mucin solutions showed that the network properties of saliva were equivalent to a solution of purified MUC5B mucin of 10–20 times higher concentration. This showed that saliva has additional structure and organization not present in the purified MUC5B mucin and suggests there are other interactions and/or components within saliva that combine with MUC5B to produce its complete properties.

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