The thickness of adherent mucus gel on the surface of colonic mucosa was measured in surgically resected specimens from 46 'control' patients most of whom had carcinoma of the colon; 12 were from right colon, 17 left colon, and 21 from rectum. In addition specimens were examined from 17 patients with ulcerative colitis and 15 patients with Crohn's disease. In controls a continuous layer of mucus was readily seen on specially prepared sections viewed by phase contrast illumination. Mean values for right and left colon and rectum were 107 (48), 134 (68), and 155 (54) microns respectively with a significant difference between right colon and rectum (p = 0.015). Values in ulcerative colitis showed greater variation and in those areas with acute inflammation mucosa was denuded of the mucus layer. In contrast, values for Crohn's disease were normal or greater than normal in thickness--right colon 190 (83) microns compared with 107 48 microns, p = 0.0093. A series of validation experiments are described for the method used to measure mucus thickness. The possible role of mucus in the pathogenesis of inflammatory bowel disease is discussed.
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