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Abstract

Muc4/sialomucin complex (SMC) is a high molecular mass heterodimeric membrane mucin, encoded by a single gene, and originally discovered in a highly metastatic ascites rat mammary adenocarcinoma. Subsequent studies have shown that it is a prominent component of many accessible and vulnerable epithelia, including the gastrointestinal tract. Immunoblot and immunofluorescence analyses demonstrated that Muc4/SMC expression in the rat small intestine increases from proximal to distal regions and is located predominantly in cells at the base of the crypts. These cells were postulated to be Paneth cells, based on their location, morphology, and secretory granule content. Immunohistochemistry indicated the presence of Muc4/SMC in these granules. Muc4/SMC expression was higher in the rat colon than small intestine and was abundantly present in colonic goblet cells, but not in goblet cells in the small intestine. Immunohistochemistry also suggested the presence of MUC4 in human colonic goblet cells. Biochemical analyses indicated that rat colonic Muc4/SMC is primarily the soluble form of the membrane mucin. Analyses of Muc4/SMC during development of the rat gastrointestinal tract showed its appearance at embryonic day 14 of the esophagus and at day 15 at the surface of the undifferentiated stratified epithelium at the gastroduodenal junction, then later at cell surfaces in the more distal regions of the differentiated epithelium of the small intestine, culminating in expression as an intracellular form in the crypts of the small intestine at about day 21. Limited expression in the colon was observed during development before birth at cell surfaces, with expression as an intracellular form in the goblet cells arising during the second week after birth. These results suggest that membrane mucin Muc4/SMC serves different functions during development of the intestine in the rat, but is primarily a secreted product in the adult animal. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.