Goblet cells

Goblet cells

Goblet cells are large, round, mucin-filled cells found in the body’s mucous membranes. They are responsible for producing mucus. This secretion is a protective lubricant coating the lining of various organs, including parts of your digestive and respiratory systems.

Where are goblet cells normally found?

Goblet cells are typically located in the linings of your intestines and respiratory tract. In the intestines, their mucus creates a protective barrier that aids in digestion and maintains tissue health. In the respiratory tract, the mucus captures and clears out particles like dust and microbes entering the airways.

What medical conditions are associated with abnormal goblet cells?

  • Asthma and chronic bronchitis: Excessive mucus production due to an increased number of goblet cells can exacerbate symptoms of these respiratory conditions.
  • Cystic fibrosis: This genetic disorder leads to abnormally thick and sticky mucus, primarily due to dysfunctional goblet cells.
  • Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD): Diseases such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease can alter goblet cell function, impacting mucus production and compromising the intestinal lining.
  • Intestinal metaplasia: This condition involves the abnormal transformation of the esophageal or stomach lining into tissue resembling the intestinal lining, including the inappropriate appearance of goblet cells. It is often linked to an increased risk of cancer.
  • Chronic sinusitis: Chronic inflammation of the sinus linings can lead to changes in goblet cell density and function, contributing to persistent mucus overproduction and blockage.
  • Bronchiectasis: This chronic condition involves the widening and scarring of airways, often accompanied by an increase in goblet cells. This leads to excess mucus production and recurrent infections.

What types of cancerous tumors are characterized by goblet cells?

Goblet cells can be found in a variety of cancerous tumours including:

  • Colorectal cancer: This cancer may include goblet cells within the tumor structure.
  • Goblet cell carcinoid: Found mainly in the appendix, this rare tumor type exhibits features of both adenocarcinomas and neuroendocrine tumors.
  • Mucoepidermoid carcinoma: This cancer is commonly found in the salivary glands but also in the upper aerodigestive tract and lungs. A mixture of mucus-producing goblet cells and epidermoid cells characterizes it.

What do goblet cells look like under the microscope?

Under the microscope, goblet cells have a very distinctive appearance. Specifically, they are large, round cells that are light blue when stained with hematoxylin and eosin (H&E). The light blue colour comes from a substance called mucin, which fills the cytoplasm (body) of the cell. As a result of the mucin, the nucleus is pushed to the bottom of the cell, which may appear flat and darker than normal.

goblet cells

About this article

Doctors wrote this article to help you read and understand your pathology report. Contact us with any questions about this article or your pathology report. Read this article for a more general introduction to the parts of a typical pathology report.

Other helpful resources

Atlas of Pathology
A+ A A-