Tracing molecular and structural changes upon mucolysis with N-acetyl cysteine in human airway mucus

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The conducting airways of the human lungs are lined by mucus, which lubricates the lung epithelium and provides a first-line protection against airborne threats. As a novel approach for visualization of the human mucus microstructure, we applied confocal Raman microscopy as a label-free and chemically selective technique. We were successfully able to chemically resolve the pulmonary surfactant from the mucus matrix and show its spatial distribution, as well as to visualize the structural changes within the freeze–dried mucus mesh upon chemical mucolysis. Subsequently, we performed rheological measurements before and after mucolysis and correlated morphology and chemical structure of the mucus with its rheological characteristics. These results do not only enrich the knowledge about the mucus microstructure, but can also, significantly contribute to rational development of future lung therapeutics.

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