Gastrointestinal infections cause significant challenges and economic losses in animal husbandry. As pathogens becoming resistant to antibiotics are a growing concern worldwide, alternative strategies to treat infections in farmed animals are necessary in order to decrease the risk to human health and increase animal health and productivity. Mucosal surfaces are the most common route used by pathogens to enter the body. The mucosal surface that lines the gastrointestinal tract is covered by a continuously secreted mucus layer that protects the epithelial surface. The mucus layer is the first barrier the pathogen must overcome for successful colonization, and is mainly composed of densely glycosylated proteins called mucins. The vast array of carbohydrate structures present on the mucins provide an important setting for host-pathogen interactions. This review summarizes the current knowledge on gastrointestinal mucins and their role during infections in farmed animals. We examine the interactions between mucins and animal pathogens, with a focus on how pathogenic bacteria can modify the mucin environment in the gut, and how this in turn affects pathogen adhesion and growth. Finally, we discuss analytical challenges and complexities of the mucus-based defense, as well as its potential to control infections in farmed animals.
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