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J Biol Chem. 2009 Aug 21;284(34):23037-45. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M109.033332. Epub 2009 Jun 25.

Association of cell surface mucins with galectin-3 contributes to the ocular surface epithelial barrier.

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Schepens Eye Research Institute, Department of Ophthalmology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02114, USA.


Maintenance of an intact mucosal barrier is critical to preventing damage to and infection of wet-surfaced epithelia. The mechanism of defense has been the subject of much investigation, and there is evidence now implicating O-glycosylated mucins on the epithelial cell surface. Here we investigate a new role for the carbohydrate-binding protein galectin-3 in stabilizing mucosal barriers through its interaction with mucins on the apical glycocalyx. Using the surface of the eye as a model system, we found that galectin-3 colocalized with two distinct membrane-associated mucins, MUC1 and MUC16, on the apical surface of epithelial cells and that both mucins bound to galectin-3 affinity columns in a galactose-dependent manner. Abrogation of the mucin-galectin interaction in four different mucosal epithelial cell types using competitive carbohydrate inhibitors of galectin binding, beta-lactose and modified citrus pectin, resulted in decreased levels of galectin-3 on the cell surface with concomitant loss of barrier function, as indicated by increased permeability to rose bengal diagnostic dye. Similarly, down-regulation of mucin O-glycosylation using a stable tetracycline-inducible RNA interfering system to knockdown c1galt1 (T-synthase), a critical galactosyltransferase required for the synthesis of core 1 O-glycans, resulted in decreased cell surface O-glycosylation, reduced cell surface galectin-3, and increased epithelial permeability. Taken together, these results suggest that galectin-3 plays a key role in maintaining mucosal barrier function through carbohydrate-dependent interactions with cell surface mucins.

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