December 6, 2022

Nasal mucus can subdue microbes, says new study


More than 200 square meters of our bodies — including the digestive tract, lungs, and urinary tract — are lined with mucus. Not even close to being a gross waste product, this slippery secretion made by, and covering, the mucous membranes serves an important physiological purpose.

It has been established that nasal mucus is the body’s security bouncer physically trapping pathogens, toxins, and fine particles like dust and pollution. The cells of the immune system in the nasal mucus then attack and neutralize the invading germs prior to them getting the opportunity to spread throughout the body and cause infection. In most cases, mucus is coughed upward or expelled — which is the body’s way of forcing the pathogens out of the body. Mucus furthermore lubricates the eyes to allow them to blink and the throat therefore it can swallow. It also serves as a lubricant under the skin’s surface to help minimize friction between the organs.

Safety mucus is found all over the entire body | Figure by Rebecca Clements, SITN Boston

New research on the Massachusetts Institute of Technologies (MIT) and published within Nature Microbiology shows one of mucus’s unexpected beneficial properties: mucus consists of sugars that can interfere with bacteria’s communication and behavior, efficiently stopping the formation associated with dangerous, tough biofilms and making them harmless.

The research was funded by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, the National Institutes associated with Health, the National Technology Foundation, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and the MIT Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation.

Katharina Ribbeck and the girl colleagues study compounds known as mucins in mucus. Mucins are long polymers, or molecular chains, densely studded with sugars. They “look like mini bottlebrushes, ” Ribbeck said, except bristling with sugar molecules where whiskers would be.

“What we have in nasal mucus is a therapeutic gold my own, ” stated Ribbeck, the Mark Hyman, Jr. Career Development Professor of Biological Engineering with MIT. “These glycans have biological features that are very broad and sophisticated. They have the ability to manage how microbes behave and also tune their identity. ”

Ribbeck among others have shown that mucus can stop microbes from binding to surfaces. Researchers focused on just how glycans were interacting with an opportunistic microbial pathogen called Pseudomonas aeruginosa , the bacterium typically causing serious infections in people with weak immune systems and cystic fibrosis patients.

Mucus disrupts biofilm formation | Figure by Rebecca Clements, SITN Boston

They discovered that when bacteria were exposed to glycans isolated from mucus, they were disarmed; the microbes stopped attaching to or killing host cells, ceased production of toxic molecules, and microbial genes involved in bacterial communications weren’t becoming expressed. The new study will be the first to “identify that the glycan component” — the sugars grafted to the mucins — “is responsible for suppressing antagonistic microbes behaviors. ”

They now plan to study the impact of individual glycans out of hundreds that can be found in mucus. They also want to investigate how glycans affect other kinds of pathogens like Candida albicans and Streptococcus germs. They already know that glycans can end Streptococcus from sharing genetics, a primary way that drug resistance spreads among microbes.

“What we discover here is that nature provides evolved the ability to disarm challenging microbes, instead of killing them. This would not only help limit selective pressure for creating resistance, because they are not under pressure to find ways to survive, but it should also help create and maintain the diverse microbiome, ” Ribbeck says.

Scientists, including Ribbeck, are also looking into the development of artificial mucus, which might be a new method of fighting pathogens that does not involve traditional antibiotic drugs.


Mucus can subdue microorganisms, says new study was originally released in Healthcare in America upon Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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