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Table 1 Advantages and limitations of mucus and mucin collection methods

From: Strategies for measuring airway mucus and mucins

MethodAdvantagesLimitations
Cell culture wash- Requires minimal specialized equipment and is not overly tedious.
- Can sample mucus in response to interventions [63, 64].
- Potential for repeated collection and/or longitudinal study.
- Accumulated mucins might not be removed properly if washing is not done successively or is incomplete [65].
- Samples may require pooling [66].
Bronchoalveolar lavage- Allows for direct sampling of the airway fluid
- Applicable in vivo [67] and ex vivo [68].
- Relatively large volumes can be retrieved.
- Materials to perform are standard.
- Can be performed in human patients [69].
- Potential for repeated and/or longitudinal sampling.
- Must be clinically indicated in order to perform in humans.
- Generally done under local anesthesia in vivo [70].
- Fluid retrieved is a combination of multiple cells and multiple proteins [67].
- Volume recovered is variable [71].
- Non-adherent proteins may be overrepresented
Sputum (spontaneous and induced)- Provides information about mucus and mucins in the lower airways
- Spontaneous sputum requires no intervention for its production
- Induced sputum provides a higher proportion of viable cells [72].
- Guidelines in place for inducing sputum in human [73].
- Potential for contaminated with saliva.
- Induced sputum usually requires inhalation of hypertonic saline, which can be irritating and change composition of mucus [74, 75].
- Success of sputum induction influenced by inflammation [72].
- Variations in the amount of sputum produced [76].
- Not really applicable to animal models.
Bronchoscopy- Direct sampling of mucus when used to remove plugs [77].
- Provides significant diagnostic information.
- Can be performed in human and animal patients.
- Performance in human patients or animal patients requires highly specialized equipment and training
- Typically performed under conscious sedation, occasionally occur under general anesthesia [70].
Endotracheal tube sampling- Direct sampling of mucus [78, 79].- Hydration of the mucus varies from the inside or the outside of the tube [80]
- Endotracheal tube placement in human and animal patients requires highly specialized training and a licensed medical practitioner.