Mucus barrier, mucins and gut microbiota: the expected slimy partners?

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.

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