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FASEB J. 1990 Jul;4(10):2709-17.

Cystic fibrosis: a disease in electrolyte transport.

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Division of Biomedical Sciences, University of California, Riverside 92521-0121.


Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a fatal genetic disease caused by abnormalities in fluid and electrolyte transport in exocrine epithelia. Both absorptive and secretory processes are affected by an underlying membrane defect in Cl- permeability. However, the impact of the defect on transport function is tissue specific. Net electrolyte absorption is decreased in the sweat duct, increased in airway epithelia, and not affected in intestine. The defect is expressed in secretion as a consistent failure in most, if not all, exocrine tissues, to beta-adrenergically stimulated and cAMP mediated secretory response. However, the secretory response to cholinergic and Ca2(+)-mediated stimulation is normal in the sweat gland, apparently normal in the airway, but absent in the intestine. The basic defect is not fatal in and of itself, and the imbalance between absorption and secretory functions may be of some selective advantage to heterozygotes in surviving complications of intestinal infections. The inherent defect in transport is probably the primary physiological cause of the ultimately fatal secondary infections in the lungs of CF homozygotes.

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