The role of mucus on drug transport and its potential to affect therapeutic outcomes

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Abstract

A layer of mucus covers the surface of all wet epithelia throughout the human body. Mucus is a hydrogel mainly composed of water, mucins (glycoproteins), DNA, proteins, lipids, and cell debris. This complex composition yields a tenacious viscoelastic hydrogel that lubricates and protects the exposed epithelia from external threats and enzymatic degradation. The natural protective role of mucus is nowadays acknowledged as a major barrier to be overcome in non-invasive drug delivery. The heterogeneity of mucus components offers a wide range of potential chemical interaction sites for macromolecules, while the mesh-like architecture given to mucus by the intermolecular cross-linking of mucin molecules results in a dense network that physically, and in a size-dependent manner, hinders the diffusion of nanoparticles through mucus. Consequently, drug diffusion, epithelial absorption, drug bioavailability, and ultimately therapeutic outcomes of mucosal drug delivery can be attenuated.

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