Mucus and mucins may become the medicine of the future

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Many people instinctively associate mucus with something disgusting, but in fact it has incredibly many valuable functions for our health. It monitors our important intestinal flora and feeds the bacteria. It covers all the internal surfaces of our body and, as a barrier to the outside world, helps us protect ourselves from infectious diseases.

This is because mucus acts as a filter that keeps bacteria in or out, and bacteria feed on the sugars in the mucus between meals. Therefore, if we can produce the mucus that is already present in the body with the right sugars, it can be used in new medical treatments.

Now, researchers at the DNRF Center of Excellence, Copenhagen Glycomics Center, have discovered how to artificially produce healthy mucus.

“We have developed a method to produce the important information found in human mucus, also called mucins, with its important sugars. Now, we show that it is possible to produce it artificially in the same way that we produce other current therapeutic biological products, such as antibodies and other biological drugs, “says Professor Henrik Clausen, lead author of the study and director of the Copenhagen Glycomics Center.

Mucus, or mucins, consists mainly of sugars. In the study, researchers show that bacteria recognize special patterns of sugars in mucins.

“It’s the body’s way of selecting the right bacteria and deselecting the ones that cause disease. And it’s precisely the mucus sugars we can now design as needed,” says the study’s first author, Ph.D. student Rebecca Nason.

Researchers are especially interested in mucus from the gastrointestinal tract. Like a giant fishing net, the mucus keeps track of all the bacteria, our microbiome, down there. Therefore, if the ability of bacteria to adhere to intestinal mucus could be mimicked, oral medications that adhere to mucus could be designed, making them more effective.

“We’ve found a small molecule of bacteria (called X409) that binds to the gut, and that’s precisely one of the many possibilities we’re working on right now,” Nason says.

It can be difficult to get medications effective when they need to be ingested and absorbed into our intestinal system. Therefore, when you design your medication as a pill that the patient swallows, it is not sure to be fully effective.

There are many obstacles to going down the digestive system and the medication takes time in the gastrointestinal tract to dissolve and distribute throughout the body, ”explains Nason.

We swallow more than a liter of mucus a day in the form of saliva and more from the stomach, which along with the changing network of mucus in the gut that feeds our intestinal microbiome. The gut microbiome is absolutely crucial to our health and is of great importance in relation to many diseases.

“An incredible number of diseases are related to the intestinal flora, but we still know very little about how we can control the intestinal flora in the treatment of diseases. This is where synthetic mucins can open up new treatment options,” says Associate Professor Yoshiki Narimatsu, another major author of the study.

“Ultimately, one can imagine using mucins as a pre-biotic material, that is, as molecules that help the body’s good bacteria,” says Narimatsu.

With artificial mucus, it will also be possible to relieve infections in the body. Saliva mucus removes bacteria and cleanses the oral cavity and it constantly runs through our eyes and keeps them clean.

“Let’s imagine that instead of using antibiotics, you could produce for example eye drops with mucin that normally kills bacteria in the treatment of eye infections. In concrete terms, this means that it can dissolve the so-called biofilm of bacteria, which is often pathogenic, ”says Narimatsu.

Biofilm is a film of bacteria on the surface of a material and is, among other things, what you can feel on your teeth if it’s been a long time since you last brushed them.

Not only that which recognize mucins.

“We also show that mucins are very important for the way the common flu virus infects ours in competition with mucins that inhibit infection and eliminate the virus, ”says Narimatsu.

Unlike the covid-19 virus, the flu virus binds to one , which is found in all mucins, and a sugar has already been developed for the treatment of influenza.

“We hope the mucins work even better,” Narimatsu says.


New protein that binds to bacteria in the gut


More information:
Rebecca Nason et al, Visualization of human mucinoma with gene-modified O-glycans defined by genes, Communications on Nature (2021). DOI: 10.1038 / s41467-021-24366-4

Citation: Mucus and mucins can become the medicine of the future (2021, July 7) retrieved July 7, 2021 at https://medicalxpress.com/news/2021-07-mucus-mucins-medicine-future. html

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