Mucus lets toxins in, but could also let in hydrophobic drugs

Here's some good news/bad news in the sticky world of mucus. First, the bad news: Researchers at Tel Aviv University have found that hydrophobic pollutants--or those that are not soluble in water--are welcomed into the body by the mucus that lines some of our organs. That means the mucus surrounding the respiratory, digestive or female reproductive systems play a role in letting hydrophobic substances, including toxins and carcinogens, into our cells. Now, the good news: PhysOrg.com reports that this discovery will be useful in enabling drugs that are not soluble in water to enter cells and treat diseases like cancer.

In a study published in the American Chemical Society's Chemical Research in Toxicology journal, Michael Gozin and Dan Peer describe how they got some toxic substances to penetrate digestive-system cell cultures and bacterial cells bathed in a mucus solution, PhysOrg.com reports.

"Until now, mucus has been regarded as a mechanical and chemical protective membrane," Gozin is quoted as saying. "We did not expect to find it actually absorbing these toxic hydrocarbons and facilitating their transport into bodily systems."

Gozin and Peer showed that petroleum-based toxins can dissolve in water with the help of mucins. "We do not know what mechanism enables these substances to penetrate the cell membranes," PhysOrg.com quotes Gozin as saying. "Clearly it is not a simple infiltration. Our assumption is that an endocytosis-like process is at work--substances are being absorbed into the cell through entrapment, with the cell membrane folding in on itself and creating a bubble."

The next step: guiding that natural process into a system to transport hydrophobic drugs to where they're needed.

- take a look at the article in PhysOrg.com
- read the abstract in the journal Chemical Research in Toxicology

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