AskDefine | Define mucus

Dictionary Definition

mucus n : protective secretion of the mucous membranes; in the gut it lubricates the passage of food and protects the epithelial cells; in the nose and throat and lungs it can make it difficult for bacteria to penetrate the body through the epithelium [syn: mucous secretion]

User Contributed Dictionary



Borrowed from Latin mucus.





mucus (uncountable)
  1. a slippery secretion from the lining of the mucous membranes


slippery secretion
  • Croatian: sluz
  • Czech: sliz
  • Danish: slim g Danish
  • Dutch: slijm
  • Finnish: lima
  • German: Schleim
  • Icelandic: slím
  • Italian: muco
  • Polish: śluz , wydzielina
  • Portuguese: muco
  • Russian: слизь (sliz’)
  • Spanish: moco

Derived terms

Related terms



From Proto-Indo-European *meu-k- "slimy, slippery". Cognates include Ancient Greek μύκης "mushroom".


Alternative spellings


mūcus, m
  1. mucus

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Derived terms

Extensive Definition

Mucus is a slippery secretion of the lining of the mucous membranes in the body. It is a viscous colloid containing antiseptic enzymes (such as lysozyme) and immunoglobulins. Mucus is produced by goblet cells in the mucous membranes that cover the surfaces of the membranes. It is made up of mucins and inorganic salts suspended in water. Phlegm is a type of mucus that is restricted to the respiratory tract, while the term mucus refers to secretions of the nasal passages as well.

Respiratory system

In the respiratory system, mucus traps small particles such as bacteria and dust, helping to prevent them from entering the body; this occurs especially in the nose. Mucus aids in the protection of the lungs by trapping foreign particles that enter the nose during normal breathing. Additionally, it prevents tissues from drying out. Increased mucus production in the respiratory tract is a symptom of many common illnesses, such as the common cold. The presence of mucus in the nose and throat is normal, but increased quantities can impede comfortable breathing and must be cleared by blowing the nose or expectorating phlegm from the throat. Among the components of nasal mucus are tears.
Nasal mucus is mucus produced by the nasal mucosa. It serves to protect the respiratory tract and trap foreign objects such as dust and pollen before they enter the remainder of the respiratory tract. Nasal mucus is produced continually, and most of it is swallowed unconsciously.


Mucus is produced by submucosal cells as well as goblet cells in the respiratory system. It consists of mucin, a highly glycosylated peptide. Upon stimulation, MARPKs (myrastine-alanine rich protein kinases) signal the binding of mucin filled vesicles to the plasma membrane. The fusion of the vesicles causes the release of the mucin, which as it exchanges Ca2+ for Na+ expands up to 600 fold. The result is a viscoelastic product of interwoven molecules called mucus.

Diseases involving mucus

Generally mucus is clear and thin, serving to filter air during inhalation. During times of infection, mucus can change color to yellow or green either as a result of trapped bacteria, or due to the body's reaction to viral infection. Such colored mucus or phlegm usually has an offensive putrid odor.
In the case of bacterial infection, the bacterium becomes trapped in already clogged sinuses, breeding in the moist, nutrient-rich environment. Antibiotics may be used fruitfully to treat the secondary infection in these cases, but will generally not help with the original cause.
In the case of a viral infection such as cold or flu, the first stage of infection causes the production of a clear, thin mucus in the nose or back of the throat. As the body begins to react to the virus (generally one to three days), mucus thickens and may turn yellow or green. In these cases, antibiotics will not be useful, and are a major source of misuse. Treatment is generally symptom-based; the only cure is to allow the immune system to fight off the virus over time.

Cystic fibrosis

Cystic fibrosis is an inherited disease that affects the entire body, but symptoms begin mostly in the lungs with excess production of mucus which is difficult to expel.

Cold weather and mucus

During cold weather, the cilia which normally sweep mucus away from the nostrils and towards the back of the throat (see respiratory epithelium) become sluggish or completely cease functioning. This results in mucus running down the nose and dripping (a runny nose). Mucus also thickens in cold weather; when an individual comes in from the cold, the mucus thaws and begins to run before the cilia begin to work again.

As a medical symptom

Increased mucus production in the respiratory tract is a symptom of many common diseases, such as the common cold. The presence of mucus in the nose and throat is normal, but increased quantities can hinder comfortable breathing and may be cleared by blowing the nose or expectorating excess mucus from the back of the throat. Nasal mucus may also be removed by using traditional methods of nasal irrigation. Excess mucus, as with a cold or allergies may be treated cautiously with decongestant drugs. Excess mucus in the bronchial tubes, as which occurs in asthma or bronchitis, may be treated with anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce the mucus production. Thickening of mucus by decongestant drugs may produce problems of drainage and circumstances that promote infection. Mucus with any color other than clear or white is generally an indicator of an infection of the nasal mucosa or the paranasal sinus.

Digestive system

In the digestive system, mucus is used as a lubricant for materials which must pass over membranes, e.g., food passing down the esophagus. A layer of mucus along the inner walls of the stomach is vital to protect the cell linings of that organ from the highly acidic environment within it.

Reproductive system

In the female reproductive system, cervical mucus prevents infection. The consistency of cervical mucus varies depending on the stage of a woman's menstrual cycle. At ovulation cervical mucus is clear, runny, and conducive to sperm; post-ovulation, mucus becomes thicker and is more likely to block sperm.
In the male reproductive system, the seminal vesicles contribute up to 60% of the total volume of the semen and contain mucus, amino acids, and fructose as the main energy source for the sperm.


mucus in Aymara: Jurma
mucus in Czech: Hlen
mucus in Danish: Slim
mucus in German: Schleim
mucus in Estonian: Lima
mucus in Spanish: Moco
mucus in French: Mucus
mucus in Indonesian: Ingus
mucus in Italian: Muco
mucus in Hebrew: ריר
mucus in Latin: Mucus
mucus in Lithuanian: Gleivės
mucus in Dutch: Slijm
mucus in Japanese: 粘液
mucus in Polish: Śluz
mucus in Portuguese: Muco
mucus in Sicilian: Mòccaru
mucus in Finnish: Räkä
mucus in Swedish: Slem
mucus in Tagalog: Kulangot
mucus in Tamil: மூக்குச்சளி
mucus in Yiddish: שליים
mucus in Chinese: 黏液

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

albumen, antifriction, autacoid, batter, bile, black lead, bonnyclabber, butter, carrion, chalone, chyle, clabber, colostrum, cornstarch, corruption, cream, curd, dandruff, decay, digestive secretion, discharge, dough, egg white, endocrine, excrement, filth, foul matter, furfur, gall, gangrene, gastric juice, gaum, gel, gelatin, glair, gleet, glop, glue, gluten, glycerin, goo, gook, goop, graphite, gruel, gumbo, gunk, hormone, humor, ichor, intestinal juice, jam, jell, jelly, lachryma, lactation, leukorrhea, loblolly, lubricant, lubricating oil, lubricator, lymph, matter, mess, milk, molasses, mucilage, muck, mucor, obscenity, ordure, pancreatic juice, pap, paste, peccant humor, phlegm, plumbago, porridge, prostatic fluid, pudding, pulp, puree, purulence, pus, putrid matter, putty, rheum, rob, rot, saliva, salivary secretion, sanies, scurf, scuz, semen, semifluid, semiliquid, serous fluid, serum, silicone, size, slime, smut, snot, sordes, soup, sperm, starch, sticky mess, suppuration, sweat, syrup, tear, teardrop, tears, the whites, thyroxin, treacle, urine, wax
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