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Goblet cells are simple columnar epithelial cells that secrete gel-forming mucins, like mucin MUC5AC. The goblet cells mainly use the merocrine method of secretion, secreting vesicles into a duct, but may use apocrine methods, budding off their secretions, when under stress. The term goblet refers to the cell's goblet-like shape. The apical portion is shaped like a cup, as it is distended by abundant mucus laden granules; its basal portion lacks these granules and is shaped like a stem.
The goblet cell is highly polarized with the nucleus and other organelles concentrated at the base of the cell and secretory granules containing mucin, at the apical surface. The apical plasma membrane projects microvilli to give an increased surface area for secretion.
Goblet cells are typically found in the respiratory, reproductive and gastrointestinal tracts and are surrounded by stratified squamous cells. Differentiation of epithelial cells into goblet cells plays a key role in the excessive mucus production seen in many diseases, such as asthma and cancer.