The surface activity of purified ocular mucin at the air-liquid interface and interactions with meibomian lipids

Thomas J. Millar*, Sophia T. Tragoulias, Philip J. Anderton, Malcolm S. Ball, Fausto Miano, Gary R. Dennis, Poonam Mudgil

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

63 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: Ocular mucins are thought to contribute to the stability of the tear film by reducing surface tension. The purpose of this study was to compare the effect of different mucins and hyaluronic acid (HA) alone and mixed with meibomian lipids on the surface pressure at an air-liquid interface. Methods: A Langmuir trough and Wilhelmy balance were used to measure and compare the surface activity of bovine submaxillary gland mucin (BSM), purified BSM, purified bovine ocular mucin and HA, and mixtures of these with meibomian lipids, phosphatidylcholine, and phosphatidylglycerol. Their appearance at the surface of an air-buffer interface was examined using epifluorescence microscopy. Results: Purified ocular mucin had no surface activity even at concentrations that were 100 times more than normally occur in tears. By contrast, commercial BSM caused changes to surface pressure that were concentration dependent. The surface pressure-area profiles showed, surface activity with maximum surface pressures of 12.3-22.5 mN/m depending on the concentration. Purified BSM showed no surface activity at low concentrations, whereas higher concentrations reached a maximum surface pressure of 25 mN/m. HA showed no surface activity, at low or high concentrations. Epifluorescence showed that the mucins were located at the air-buffer interface and changed the appearance of lipid firms. Conclusion: Purified bovine ocular mucin and HA have no surface activity. However, despite having no surface activity in their own right, ocular mucins are likely to be present at the surface of the tear film, where they cause an increase in surface pressure by causing a compression of the lipids (a reorganization of the lipids) and alter the viscoelastic properties at the surface.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)91-100
Number of pages10
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Bovine submaxillary mucin
  • Hyaluronic acid
  • Langmuir
  • Surface pressure
  • Surface tension
  • Tear film


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