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Mucus barrier, mucins and gut microbiota: the expected slimy partners?
  1. Paola Paone,
  2. Patrice D Cani
  1. Metabolism and Nutrition Research Group, Louvain Drug Research Institute, Walloon Excellence in Life Sciences and BIOtechnology (WELBIO), UCLouvain, Université catholique de Louvain, Brussels, Belgium
  1. Correspondence to Professor Patrice D Cani, Louvain Drug Research Institute, WELBIO, Metabolism and Nutrition, UCLouvain, Université catholique de Louvain, Avenue E. Mounier, 73 B1.73.11 B-1200, Brussels, Belgium; patrice.cani{at}


The gastrointestinal tract is often considered as a key organ involved in the digestion of food and providing nutrients to the body for proper maintenance. However, this system is composed of organs that are extremely complex. Among the different parts, the intestine is viewed as an incredible surface of contact with the environment and is colonised by hundreds of trillions of gut microbes. The role of the gut barrier has been studied for decades, but the exact mechanisms involved in the protection of the gut barrier are various and complementary. Among them, the integrity of the mucus barrier is one of the first lines of protection of the gastrointestinal tract. In the past, this ‘slimy’ partner was mostly considered a simple lubricant for facilitating the progression of the food bolus and the stools in the gut. Since then, different researchers have made important progress, and currently, the regulation of this mucus barrier is gaining increasing attention from the scientific community. Among the factors influencing the mucus barrier, the microbiome plays a major role in driving mucus changes. Additionally, our dietary habits (ie, high-fat diet, low-fibre/high-fibre diet, food additives, pre- probiotics) influence the mucus at different levels. Given that the mucus layer has been linked with the appearance of diseases, proper knowledge is highly warranted. Here, we debate different aspects of the mucus layer by focusing on its chemical composition, regulation of synthesis and degradation by the microbiota as well as some characteristics of the mucus layer in both physiological and pathological situations.

  • mucins
  • mucus
  • intestinal microbiology
  • intestinal permeability
  • glycobiology

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  • Contributors PP and PDC conceived and drew the figures. PP and PDC have all contributed to the design and the writing of the review.

  • Funding PDC is a senior research associate at FRS-FNRS (Fonds de la Recherche Scientifique), Belgium. He is supported by the Fonds Baillet Latour (Grant for Medical Research 2015) and the Fonds de la Recherche Scientifique (FNRS, FRFS-WELBIO: WELBIO-CR-2019C-02R, and EOS programme no.30770923). PDC and PP received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (H2020 MSCA Sweet Crosstalk project under grant agreement No 814102).

  • Competing interests PDC is an inventor of patent applications dealing with the use of Akkermansia muciniphila and its components in the context of obesity and related disorders. PDC is cofounder of A-Mansia Biotech SA.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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