Mucus is a water-insoluble gel secreted by the gastrointestinal tract. It exists as a protective gel layer adherent to the epithelial surface of the stomach, small intestine and colon. The mucus gel is composed of 1–10% (w/v) mucin glycoprotein in a plasma-like fluid. Since the mucus gel is predominantly water, standard histological techniques dehydrate the mucus, making visualisation of the functional barrier difficult. Specialist techniques have been developed to enable visualisation of the intact mucus layer. A simple histological method using snap-frozen tissue, sectioned with a cryostat and stained with modified periodic acid-Schiff s/Alcian blue in mucus-preserving conditions will be described. A second powerful in vivo animal model is described which enables measurement of mucus secretion over time. The use of these two methods has allowed the characterisation of the normal mucus layer in the colon and the determination of how it is affected by disease and dietary intervention, in particular the effect of dietary fibre, and evidence that fibre deficiency results in colonic mucosal fragility is presented.
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