Where are mucous membranes found? What functions do they perform?
Mucous membranes, or mucosae, are always found lining the organs with connections to the outside environment. These organs are part of the digestive, respiratory, urinary, and reproductive tracts and include the mouth, esophagus, stomach, intestines, colon, nasal passages, trachea, bladder, uterus, and others. With the exception of the mucosae of the urinary tract, mucosae in general can produce large quantities of protective and lubricating mucus. Goblet cells or multicellular glands may be found throughout the tissue. These structures are responsible for the production and secretion of mucus, which consists primarily of water, electrolytes, and a protein called mucin. Mucus is slippery and therefore can decrease friction and assist with the passage of food or waste. Because of its rich supply of antibodies and its viscous consistency, mucus is also helpful in the entrapment and disposal of invading pathogens and foreign particles. This is particularly apparent in the nasal passages, where microorganisms and debris are inhaled and trapped by mucus. Some mucosae can also absorb as well as secrete. For example, the epithelial layer in the intestine is specially designed for rapid and efficient transfer of nutrient molecules from the intestinal lumen to the underlying connective tissue and its blood supply. The mucosa therefore plays an important role in monitoring and controlling what enters the body, and mucous membranes form an important barrier between the outside environment and the delicate inner workings of the body. The secretory and absorptive qualities of mucosae make them particularly well suited for this role.