The esophageal mucosal barrier in health and disease: mucosal pathophysiology and protective mechanisms

C. Prakash Gyawali, Irene Sonu, Laren Becker, Jerzy Sarosiek

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Diseases of the esophagus, such as gastroesophageal reflux (GER), can result in changes to mucosal integrity, neurological function, and the microbiome. Although poorly understood, both age and GER can lead to changes to the enteric nervous system. In addition, the esophagus has a distinct microbiome that can be altered in GER. Mucosal integrity is also at risk due to persistent damage from acid. Diagnostic tools, such as ambulatory pH/impedance testing and esophageal mucosal impedance, can assess short-term and longitudinal GER burden, which can also assess the risk for mucosal compromise. The quality of the mucosal barrier is determined by its intercellular spaces, tight junctions, and tight junction proteins, which are represented by claudins, occludins, and adhesion molecules. Fortunately, there are protective factors for mucosal integrity that are secreted by the esophageal submucosal mucous glands and within saliva that are augmented by mastication. These protective factors have potential as therapeutic targets for GER. In this article, we aim to review diagnostic tools used to predict mucosal integrity, aging, and microbiome changes to the esophagus and esophageal mucosal defense mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)49-60
Number of pages12
JournalAnnals of the New York Academy of Sciences
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 10 2020


  • aging
  • esophageal mucosal barrier and impedance
  • gastroesophageal reflux disease
  • heartburn
  • microbiota
  • salivary protection


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