Previous reports of a selective mucin subclass defect in ulcerative colitis have been reassessed using high performance chromatography (Superose 6 and Mono Q) for mucin purification and fractionation coupled with analysis of the fractions obtained using a combination of enzyme linked lectin and mucin antibody assays. Mucin samples purified from snap frozen rectal biopsy specimens obtained from patients with ulcerative colitis (n = 12), Crohn's disease (n = 5), and non-inflammatory bowel disease control subjects (n = 9) were subject to ion exchange chromatography using a continuous 0-0.35 mol/l NaCl salt gradient with a final 2.5 mol/l NaCl step. In all samples the major proportion (mean (SD) 86.7 (8.9)%) of the mucin detectable by wheat germ agglutinin binding eluted between 0.15 and 0.35 mol/l NaCl with no significant difference in elution profile between ulcerative colitis and control subjects. Significant elution of glycoprotein at less than 0.15 mol/l NaCl did occur, however, when a lower molecular weight mucin containing fraction which contained concanavalin A positive (glucose or mannose containing) material was analysed similarly. Similar ion exchange profiles were obtained when (3H)N-acetylglucosamine labelled mucins were studied after tissue culture of rectal biopsy specimens. No significant alteration in the ion exchange profile of purified mucins in ulcerative colitis has been shown in these studies. It is possible that the previously reported relative depletion of mucin subclass IV (eluting with 0.20 mol/l NaCl) may simply have reflected mucin depletion.
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