1. Human gallbladder mucin has been implicated to play a role in gallstone disease. In spite of this fact relatively little is known about the structure of human gallbladder mucin. In this study we have investigated the possible heterogeneity of mucin. For this purpose polyclonal and monoclonal antibodies against gallbladder mucin were raised. All antibodies reacted primarily with carbohydrate antigenic determinants. With these antibodies the immunoreactivity of gallbladder mucin from 60 patients with cholesterol gallstones and 20 subjects without stones was screened. In addition, reactivity with several lectins was studied.
2. Considerable heterogeneity was found with both antibody and lectin typing, but there was no significant difference in heterogeneity between mucin from patients with gallstones and control subjects. Immunoblotting revealed that there was similarity between the reaction of the polyclonal antibody and the Helix pomatia agglutinin. All mucin preparations reacting with the polyclonal antibody also bound to Helix pomatia agglutinin. Nineteen of the 21 reacting mucins (90%) were from patients with blood group A (18 patients) or AB (one patient) and expression of A antigen could be demonstrated on the mucin of these patients. The resulting two reacting mucins were from patients with type O. However, expression of the blood group antigen could not account for the lack of reactivity of the mucin of other patients. The Helix pomatia agglutinin partially blocked the reactivity of the polyclonal antibody, whereas anti-A antibody did not show inhibition, indicating that more then only blood group A epitopes were recognized by this antibody.
3. We conclude that considerable patient to patient heterogeneity of human gallbladder mucin exists. This may have functional consequences for the role of mucin in the pathogenesis of gallstone disease.