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J Cyst Fibros. 2002 Mar;1(1):13-29.

The cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator: an intriguing protein with pleiotropic functions.

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Center for Human Genetics, University of Leuven, B-3000 Leuven, Belgium.


Cystic fibrosis is a frequent autosomal recessive disorder that is caused by the malfunctioning of a small chloride channel, the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator. The protein is found in the apical membrane of epithelial cells lining exocrine glands. Absence of this channel results in imbalance of ion concentrations across the cell membrane. As a result, fluids secreted through these glands become more viscous and, in the end, ducts become plugged and atrophic. Little is known about the pathways that link the malfunctioning of the CFTR protein with the observed clinical phenotype. Moreover, there is no strict correlation between specific CFTR mutations and the CF phenotype. This might be explained by the fact that environmental and additional genetic factors may influence the phenotype. The CFTR protein itself is regulated at the maturational level by chaperones and SNARE proteins and at the functional level by several protein kinases. Moreover, CFTR functions also as a regulator of other ion channels and of intracellular membrane transport processes. In order to be able to function as a protein with pleiotropic actions, CFTR seems to be linked with other proteins and with the cytoskeleton through interaction with PDZ-domain-containing proteins at the apical pole of the cell. Progress in cystic fibrosis research is substantial, but still leaves many questions unanswered.

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