Altering mucus rheology to "solidify" human mucus at the nanoscale

Samuel K. Lai, Ying Ying Wang, Richard Cone, Denis Wirtz, Justin Hanes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

97 Scopus citations


The ability of mucus to function as a protective barrier at mucosal surfaces rests on its viscous and elastic properties, which i are not well understood at length scales relevant to pathogens and ultrafine environmental particles. Here we report that fresh, undiluted human cervicovaginal mucus (CVM) transitions from an impermeable elastic barrier to-non-adhesive objects sized 1 μm and larger to a highly permeable viscoelastic liquid to non-adhesive objects smaller than 500 nm in diameter. Addition of a nonionic detergent, present in vaginal gels, lubricants and condoms, caused CVM to behave as an impermeable elastic barrier to 200 and 500 nm particles, suggesting that the dissociation of hydrophobically-bundled mucin fibers created a finer elastic mucin mesh. Surprisingly, the macroscopic viscoelasticity, which is critical to proper mucus function, was unchanged. These findings provide important insight into the nanoscale structural and barrier properties of mucus, and how the penetration of foreign particles across mucus might be inhibited.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere4294
JournalPloS one
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 28 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General


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