In the stomach, a layer of gastric mucus protects the epithelial cells of the stomach wall against damage by the acidic digestive juices in the gastric lumen. Despite considerable research, the biophysical mechanisms for this acid barrier are not understood. We present an in vitro microfluidic tool to characterize the stomach acid barrier, in which purified mucin polymers are “secreted” against an acidic zone on chip, mimicking the in vivo secretion of gastric mucus into an acidic stomach lumen. This device reconstitutes both the H+ concentration gradient and outward flow environment of the mucus layer in vivo. Our experiments demonstrate that a continuously secreted mucin layer hinders acid diffusion, suggesting novel insights into the barrier role of mucins. More broadly, our system may serve as a platform tool for studying the barrier functions provided by mucus layers in the body and for studying mucus drug interactions.
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