The microstructure and bulk rheology of human cervicovaginal mucus are remarkably resistant to changes in pH.
ABSTRACT: The protective barrier, lubricant, and clearance functions of mucus are intimately coupled to its microstructure and bulk rheology. Mucus gels consist of a network of mucin biopolymers along with lipids, salts, and other proteins and exhibit similar biochemical and physical properties across diverse mucosal surfaces. Nevertheless, mucus is exposed to a broad range of pH values throughout the human body. Protein functions are typically sensitive to small changes in pH, and prior investigations using reconstituted, purified mucin gels suggested mucus undergoes a transition from a low-viscosity liquid at neutral pH to a highly viscoelastic solid at low pH. We sought to determine whether those observations hold for fresh, minimally perturbed human mucus ex vivo by using different-sized muco-inert nanoparticles to probe microstructure and cone-and-plate rheometry to measure bulk rheology. We demonstrate that both the microstructure and bulk rheology of fresh, undiluted, and minimally perturbed cervicovaginal mucus exhibit relatively minor changes from pH 1-2 to 8-9, in marked contrast with the pH sensitivity of purified mucin gels. Our work also suggests additional components in mucus secretions, typically eliminated during mucin purification and reconstitution, may play an important role in maintaining the protective properties of mucus.
Project description:The ulcer-causing gastric pathogen Helicobacter pylori is the only bacterium known to colonize the harsh acidic environment of the human stomach. H. pylori survives in acidic conditions by producing urease, which catalyzes hydrolysis of urea to yield ammonia thus elevating the pH of its environment. However, the manner in which H. pylori is able to swim through the viscoelastic mucus gel that coats the stomach wall remains poorly understood. Previous rheology studies on gastric mucin, the key viscoelastic component of gastric mucus, indicate that the rheology of this material is pH dependent, transitioning from a viscous solution at neutral pH to a gel in acidic conditions. Bulk rheology measurements on porcine gastric mucin (PGM) show that pH elevation by H. pylori induces a dramatic decrease in viscoelastic moduli. Microscopy studies of the motility of H. pylori in gastric mucin at acidic and neutral pH in the absence of urea show that the bacteria swim freely at high pH, and are strongly constrained at low pH. By using two-photon fluorescence microscopy to image the bacterial motility in an initially low pH mucin gel with urea present we show that the gain of translational motility by bacteria is directly correlated with a rise in pH indicated by 2',7'-Bis-(2-Carboxyethyl)-5-(and-6)-carboxyfluorescein (BCECF), a pH sensitive fluorescent dye. This study indicates that the helicoidal-shaped H. pylori does not bore its way through the mucus gel like a screw through a cork as has previously been suggested, but instead achieves motility by altering the rheological properties of its environment.
Project description:Luminal accumulation of viscous, poorly hydrated, and less transportable mucus has been associated with altered mucus rheology and reduced mucociliary clearance. These symptoms are some of the cardinal clinical manifestations found throughout major respiratory diseases as well as gastrointestinal and digestive disorders. Applications of current mucolytics may yield short-term improvements but are continuously challenged by undesirable side-effects. While nanoparticles (NPs) can interact with mucin polymers,whether functionalized NPs can rectify mucus rheology is unknown. Herein, we report that carboxyl-functionalized NPs (24 nm and 120 nm) dramatically reduced mucin gel size and accelerated mucin matrix hydration rate (diffusivity). Our results suggest that carboxyl-functionalized NPs disperse mucin gels possibly by enhancing network hydration. This report highlights the prospective usages of carboxyl-functionalized NPs as a novel mucus dispersant or mucolytic agent in adjusting mucus rheological properties and improving mucociliary transport to relieve clinical symptoms of patients suffering from relevant diseases.
Project description:The details of how a mucus hydrogel forms from its primary structural component, mucin polymers, remain incompletely resolved. To explore this, we use a combination of macrorheology and single-particle tracking to investigate the bulk and microscopic mechanical properties of reconstituted MUC5AC mucin gels. We find that analyses of thermal fluctuations on the length scale of the micrometer-sized particles are not predictive of the linear viscoelastic response of the mucin gels, and that taken together, the results from both techniques help to provide complementary insight into the structure of the network. In particular, we show that macroscopic stiffening of MUC5AC gels can be brought about in different ways by targeting specific associations within the network using environmental triggers such as modifications to the pH, surfactant, and salt concentration. Our work may be important for understanding how environmental factors, including pathogens and therapeutic agents, alter the mechanical properties of fully constituted mucus.
Project description:In the body, mucus provides an important defense mechanism by limiting the penetration of pathogens. It is therefore also a major obstacle for the efficient delivery of particle-based drug carriers. The acidic stomach lining in particular is difficult to overcome because mucin glycoproteins form viscoelastic gels under acidic conditions. The bacterium Helicobacter pylori has developed a strategy to overcome the mucus barrier by producing the enzyme urease, which locally raises the pH and consequently liquefies the mucus. This allows the bacteria to swim through mucus and to reach the epithelial surface. We present an artificial system of reactive magnetic micropropellers that mimic this strategy to move through gastric mucin gels by making use of surface-immobilized urease. The results demonstrate the validity of this biomimetic approach to penetrate biological gels, and show that externally propelled microstructures can actively and reversibly manipulate the physical state of their surroundings, suggesting that such particles could potentially penetrate native mucus.
Project description:In the small intestine the nature of the environment leads to a highly heterogeneous mucus layer primarily composed of the MUC2 mucin. We set out to investigate whether the soluble dietary fibre sodium alginate could alter the permeability of the mucus layer. The alginate was shown to freely diffuse into the mucus and to have minimal effect on the bulk rheology when added at concentrations below 0.1%. Despite this lack of interaction between the mucin and alginate, the addition of alginate had a marked effect on the diffusion of 500 nm probe particles, which decreased as a function of increasing alginate concentration. Finally, we passed a protein stabilised emulsion through a simulation of oral, gastric and small intestinal digestion. We subsequently showed that the addition of 0.1% alginate to porcine intestinal mucus decreased the diffusion of fluorescently labelled lipid present in the emulsion digesta. This reduction may be sufficient to reduce problems associated with high rates of lipid absorption such as hyperlipidaemia.
Project description:The ability of mucus to function as a protective barrier at mucosal surfaces rests on its viscous and elastic properties, which are not well understood at length scales relevant to pathogens and ultrafine environmental particles. Here we report that fresh, undiluted human cervicovaginal mucus (CVM) transitions from an impermeable elastic barrier to non-adhesive objects sized 1 microm and larger to a highly permeable viscoelastic liquid to non-adhesive objects smaller than 500 nm in diameter. Addition of a nonionic detergent, present in vaginal gels, lubricants and condoms, caused CVM to behave as an impermeable elastic barrier to 200 and 500 nm particles, suggesting that the dissociation of hydrophobically-bundled mucin fibers created a finer elastic mucin mesh. Surprisingly, the macroscopic viscoelasticity, which is critical to proper mucus function, was unchanged. These findings provide important insight into the nanoscale structural and barrier properties of mucus, and how the penetration of foreign particles across mucus might be inhibited.
Project description:Perturbations in airway mucus properties contribute to lung function decline in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). While alterations in bulk mucus rheology have been widely explored, microscopic mucus properties that directly impact on the dynamics of microorganisms and immune cells in the COPD lungs are yet to be investigated.We hypothesised that a tightened mesh structure of spontaneously expectorated mucus (<i>i.e.</i> sputum) would contribute to increased COPD disease severity. Here, we investigated whether the mesh size of COPD sputum, quantified by muco-inert nanoparticle (MIP) diffusion, correlated with sputum composition and lung function measurements.The microstructure of COPD sputum was assessed based on the mean squared displacement (MSD) of variously sized MIPs measured by multiple particle tracking. MSD values were correlated with sputum composition and spirometry. In total, 33 samples collected from COPD or non-COPD individuals were analysed.We found that 100 nm MIPs differentiated microstructural features of COPD sputum. The mobility of MIPs was more hindered in sputum samples from patients with severe COPD, suggesting a tighter mucus mesh size. Specifically, MSD values inversely correlated with lung function.These findings suggest that sputum microstructure may serve as a novel risk factor for COPD progression and severity.
Project description:Airway mucus in cystic fibrosis (CF) is highly elastic, but the mechanism behind this pathology is unclear. We hypothesized that the biophysical properties of CF mucus are altered because of neutrophilic oxidative stress. Using confocal imaging, rheology, and biochemical measures of inflammation and oxidation, we found that CF airway mucus gels have a molecular architecture characterized by a core of mucin covered by a web of DNA and a rheological profile characterized by high elasticity that can be normalized by chemical reduction. We also found that high levels of reactive oxygen species in CF mucus correlated positively and significantly with high concentrations of the oxidized products of cysteine (disulfide cross-links). To directly determine whether oxidation can cross-link mucins to increase mucus elasticity, we exposed induced sputum from healthy subjects to oxidizing stimuli and found a marked and thiol-dependent increase in sputum elasticity. Targeting mucin disulfide cross-links using current thiol-amino structures such as N-acetylcysteine (NAC) requires high drug concentrations to have mucolytic effects. We therefore synthesized a thiol-carbohydrate structure (methyl 6-thio-6-deoxy-?-D-galactopyranoside) and found that it had stronger reducing activity than NAC and more potent and fast-acting mucolytic activity in CF sputum. Thus, oxidation arising from airway inflammation or environmental exposure contributes to pathologic mucus gel formation in the lung, which suggests that it can be targeted by thiol-modified carbohydrates.
Project description:Properties such as shear modulus, gelation time, structure of supramolecular hydrogels are strongly dependent on self-assembly, gelation triggering mechanism and processes used to form the gel. In our work we extend reported rheology analysis methodologies to pH-triggered supramolecular gels to understand structural insight using a model system based on N-N' Dibenzoyl-L-Cystine pH-triggered hydrogelator and Glucono-δ-Lactone as the trigger. We observed that Avrami growth model when applied to time-sweep rheological data of gels formed at lower trigger concentrations provide estimates of fractal dimension which agree well compared with visualization of the microstructure as seen via Confocal Laser Scanning Microscopy, for a range of gelator concentrations.
Project description:Mucus secretions typically protect exposed surfaces of the eyes and respiratory, gastrointestinal and female reproductive tracts from foreign entities, including pathogens and environmental ultrafine particles. We hypothesized that excess exposure to some foreign particles, however, may cause disruption of the mucus barrier. Many synthetic nanoparticles are likely to be mucoadhesive due to hydrophobic, electrostatic or hydrogen bonding interactions. We therefore sought to determine whether mucoadhesive particles (MAP) could alter the mucus microstructure, thereby allowing other foreign particles to more easily penetrate mucus. We engineered muco-inert probe particles 1 µm in diameter, whose diffusion in mucus is limited only by steric obstruction from the mucus mesh, and used them to measure possible MAP-induced changes to the microstructure of fresh human cervicovaginal mucus. We found that a 0.24% w/v concentration of 200 nm MAP in mucus induced a ?10-fold increase in the average effective diffusivity of the probe particles, and a 2- to 3-fold increase in the fraction capable of penetrating physiologically thick mucus layers. The same concentration of muco-inert particles, and a low concentration (0.0006% w/v) of MAP, had no detectable effect on probe particle penetration rates. Using an obstruction-scaling model, we determined that the higher MAP dose increased the average mesh spacing ("pore" size) of mucus from 380 nm to 470 nm. The bulk viscoelasticity of mucus was unaffected by MAP exposure, suggesting MAP may not directly impair mucus clearance or its function as a lubricant, both of which depend critically on the bulk rheological properties of mucus. Our findings suggest mucoadhesive nanoparticles can substantially alter the microstructure of mucus, highlighting the potential of mucoadhesive environmental or engineered nanoparticles to disrupt mucus barriers and cause greater exposure to foreign particles, including pathogens and other potentially toxic nanomaterials.