Mucus produced by submucosal glands is a key component of respiratory mucociliary transport (MCT). When it emerges from submucosal gland ducts, mucus forms long strands on the airway surface. However, the function of those strands is uncertain. To test the hypothesis that mucus strands facilitate transport of large particles, we studied newborn pigs. In ex vivo experiments, interconnected mucus strands moved over the airway surface, attached to immobile spheres, and initiated their movement by pulling them. Stimulating submucosal gland secretion with methacholine increased the percentage of spheres that moved and shortened the delay until mucus strands began moving spheres. To disrupt mucus strands, we applied reducing agents tris-(2-carboxyethyl)phosphine and dithiothreitol. They decreased the fraction of moving spheres and delayed initiation of movement for spheres that did move. We obtained similar in vivo results with CT-based tracking of microdisks in spontaneously breathing pigs. Methacholine increased the percentage of microdisks moving and reduced the delay until they were propelled up airways. Aerosolized tris-(2-carboxyethyl)phosphine prevented those effects. Once particles started moving, reducing agents did not alter their speed either ex vivo or in vivo. These findings indicate that submucosal glands produce mucus in the form of strands and that the strands initiate movement of large particles, facilitating their removal from airways.
Anthony J. Fischer, Maria I. Pino-Argumedo, Brieanna M. Hilkin, Cullen R. Shanrock, Nicholas D. Gansemer, Anna L. Chaly, Keyan Zarei, Patrick D. Allen, Lynda S. Ostedgaard, Eric A. Hoffman, David A. Stoltz, Michael J. Welsh, Mahmoud H. Abou Alaiwa