- Open Access
Unique presentations and chronic complications in adult cystic fibrosis: do they teach us anything about CFTR?
Respiratory Research volume 1, Article number: 3 (2000)
The increase in numbers of adults with cystic fibrosis (CF) has allowed us to identify previously unrecognized chronic complications of CF, as well as appreciate unique presentations of cystic fibrosis-related diseases. Do these chronic complications and unique presentations provide us with new insight into cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) function? Current data suggest that the 'chronic complications' reveal mainly the effect of a long-term absence of previously recognized CFTR functions. In contrast, the 'unique presentations' provide new insight into the role of CFTR in different tissues.
One of the most striking trends in cystic fibrosis (CF) over the past few decades has been the marked increase in expected life span, with median survival improving from less than 10 years in the 1960s to more than 30 years now. Currently more than one-third of all individuals with CF are over the age of 18 , and trends suggest that in the next decade adults will account for nearly half of the CF population. It is accepted that new insights into the basic pathophysiology of CF might allow continued increases in survival, but is the converse also true? Will increased survival allow greater insight into the basic pathophysiology of CF? This question can be asked because with increased length of survival has come the recognition of previously underappreciated CF-related complications including an increased risk of gastrointestinal and perhaps pancreatic malignancy, osteoporosis, and diabetes. Furthermore, greater attention to 'adult' CF has also led us to identify, with increased frequency, atypical presentations of dysfunction of cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR): chronic pancreatitis, congenital bilateral absence of the vas deferens (CBAVD), chronic sinusitis, and allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis. Do these unique presentations and chronic complications of adult CF teach us anything about the function of CFTR?
Complications in adult CF
When deciding whether the complications of adult CF provide us with insight into CFTR function, the key question to ask is: do these complications suggest previously unrecognized functions for CFTR, or are they due to the long-term absence of already recognized CFTR functions? A prime example of an area in which this question should be asked is the role of CFTR dysfunction in increasing the risk for malignancy. A study in 1995 by Neglia et al  on the risk of cancer in patients with CF revealed that although the overall risk for cancer is similar to that of the general population, there is an increased risk for digestive tract cancers. In particular, there is an increased risk for ileal and colonic adenocarcinoma. Similar results were found in an earlier study by Sheldon et al . Other reports have suggested an association between CF and pancreatic adenocarcinoma [3,4]. The key question is: are these neoplasms related to previously unrecognized functions of CFTR, or are they secondary to chronic inflammation, infection, or malnutrition, which might predispose to malignancy?
At present there is no evidence that CFTR mutations are directly responsible for oncogenicity. To start with, when the data from Neglia et al  are examined more closely, only one of the 24 cases of malignancy identified occurred in a patient under 20 years of age. A similar trend is seen when reviewing reported cases of CF and pancreatic malignancy: none has occurred before the age of 25 [4–6]. If CFTR mutations were directly oncogenic, it is likely that malignancies would be seen more frequently early in life. In 1997, Padua et al attempted to look directly at the relationship between the ΔF508 mutation and malignancy by screening more than 1700 patients with one of six different common tumors including colon, breast, lymphoma, and leukemia, for the ΔF508 mutation. Not only was there not an increased frequency of ΔF508 presence in any of the malignancy groups compared with a control group, there was actually a lower than expected frequency in patients with colonic adenocarcinoma . Until evidence to the contrary is found, it must be assumed that the increased risk of certain malignancies seen in CF is secondary not to previously unidentified roles of CFTR but to the long-term absence of already recognized CFTR functions. In gastrointestinal malignancy several mechanisms have been suggested, including a change in the functional environment of the small bowel owing to abnormal bile acid metabolism , chronic steatorrhea , and selenium and vitamin E deficiency .
Other common adult-onset CF complications include diabetes and osteoporosis. Again, it is unlikely that these complications suggest previously unrecognized roles for CFTR. CF-related diabetes develops on average at around 20 years of age in individuals with long-standing pancreatic exocrine insufficiency. It is known that CFTR has a key role in the ductal epithelium of the pancreas, and its dysfunction is thought to result in protein hyperconcentration, precipitation and obstruction within pancreatic ducts. The subsequent parenchymal damage is likely to contribute to the development of diabetes and has been documented in autopsy studies of CF-related diabetes: pancreatic ductal blockage and dilatation, fatty and fibrotic replacement of tissue, severe loss of β cells, and significant amyloid deposition [9,10]. Despite some evidence for alterations in insulin secretion independent of β cell destruction, there is currently insufficient evidence to propose new pancreatic roles for CFTR. Similarly, osteopenia/osteoporosis, which is present in 65% or more of adults with CF , is unlikely to provide great insight into CFTR. CFTR expression has not been documented in osteoblasts or osteoclasts. Studies suggest that bone disease in CF is probably multifactorial, owing to a combination of malnutrition (vitamin D and calcium) , circulating cytokines , inadequate androgens and estrogens , and exogenous use of glucocorticoids.
In contrast with chronic complications, however, unique presentations of CFTR-related diseases in adults have provided significant insight into CFTR function. This has occurred in particular in isolated presentations of CFTR-related diseases such as CBAVD, chronic pancreatitis, and chronic sinusitis with nasal polyposis. All of these have helped to provide an understanding of the hierarchy of tissue sensitivity to CFTR dysfunction.
It is clear from these atypical presentations of CFTR dysfunction that it is the vas deferens, pancreas, and sinuses that are the tissues most sensitive to decreases in CFTR function. The sensitivity of the vas deferens was first recognized in adult men with CBAVD and otherwise non-CF phenotypes. A recent study of more than 800 men with isolated CBAVD found that 71% had two CFTR mutations . Almost universally they had at least one Class IV or Class V CFTR mutation, which results in levels of CFTR function estimated to be about 10% of normal . Women with similar mutations have been reported to have thick cervical mucus and hypofertility, suggesting a possible female equivalent to CBAVD that affects the paramesonephric ducts . Because only a small portion of men with CBAVD have evidence of lung, sinus or pancreatic pathology, we must conclude that in general it is the mesonephric and paramesonephric ducts that are among the most sensitive tissues to CFTR dysfunction.
The more recently recognized entity of CFTR-related pancreatitis suggests that the pancreas is also particularly sensitive to CFTR dysfunction. A study by Cohn et al  screened a cohort of 27 patients with chronic idiopathic pancreatitis for 17 common CF mutations and the 5T allele in intron 8 of the gene for CFTR. Despite this limited screening, 37% of them had at least one CFTR mutation, and 11% had two identifiable CFTR mutations; 19% of the patients had the 5T allele in intron 8 of the gene for CFTR, a mutation that permits the formation of a small amount of normal CFTR but causes the vast majority of CFTR transcripts to lack exon 9 and be dysfunctional. Only one of the patients had CBAVD and none had CF sinopulmonary disease. This suggests that, like the vas deferens, the pancreas is among the most sensitive tissues to CFTR dysfunction. The manifestation of CFTR dysfunction in the pancreas is determined by the degree of decrease in CFTR levels, with a decrease to 10% of normal leading to an increased risk for pancreatitis, and a decrease to levels less than 1% leading invariably to exocrine pancreatic insufficiency. Further research is needed to determine whether the CFTR deficiency leads directly to pancreatitis or whether it increases the risk of pancreatitis only after exposure to stressors .
The third group of patients that give us insight into tissue sensitivity to decreases in CFTR function are patients with chronic sinusitis and polyposis. The evidence is mounting that a moderate decrease in CFTR function can lead to isolated sinus disease. A recent study by Wang et al  found an increased frequency of CF mutations in patients with chronic sinusitis and otherwise non-CF phenotypes. Friedman et al  noted an association of the 5T allele with atypical sinopulmonary disease. In retrospect, some of the men initially studied and identified as having CFTR-related CBAVD were noted later to exhibit symptoms of sinus disease .
So, although adult CF complications such as colonic malignancy, diabetes, and osteoporosis have not provided significant new insights into CFTR function, the unique presentations of CF-related diseases in adults have done so. CBAVD, pancreatitis and sinus disease have given us a better understanding of the hierarchy of tissue sensitivity to CFTR dysfunction. In future the study of these disease presentations, as well as other unusual presentations of CFTR dysfunction such as allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis  and idiopathic disseminated brochiectasis , might lead to the identification of previously unidentified roles for CFTR.
Cystic Fibrosis Foundation Patient Registry 1998 Annual Data Report. Bethesda: Cystic Fibrosis Foundation; 1998.
Neglia JP, FitzSimmons SC, Maisonneuve P, Schoni MH, Schoni-Affolter F, Corey M, Lowenfels AB: The risk of cancer among patients with cystic fibrosis. Cystic Fibrosis and Cancer Study Group. N Engl J Med 1995, 332:494–499.
Sheldon CD, Hodson ME, Carpenter LM, Swerdlow AJ: A cohort study of cystic fibrosis and malignancy. Br J Cancer 1993, 68:1025–1028.
Tsongalis GJ, Faber G, Dalldorf FG, Friedman KJ, Silverman LM, Yankaskas JR: Association of pancreatic adenocarcinoma, mild lung disease, and delta F508 mutation in a cystic fibrosis patient. Clin Chem 1994, 40:1972–1974.
Tedesco FJ, Brown R, Schuman BM: Pancreatic carcinoma in a patient with cystic fibrosis. Gastrointest Endosc 1986, 32:25–26.
McIntosh JC, Schoumacher RA, Tiller RE: Pancreatic adenocarcinoma in a patient with cystic fibrosis. Am J Med 1988, 85:592.
Padua RA, Warren N, Grimshaw D, Smith M, Lewis C, Whittaker J, Laidler P, Wright P, Douglas-Jones A, Fenaux P, Sharma A, Horgan K, West R: The cystic fibrosis delta F508 gene mutation and cancer. Hum Mutat 1997, 10:45–48.
Stead RJ, Redington AN, Hinks LJ, Clayton BE, Hodson ME, Batten JC: Selenium deficiency and possible increased risk of carcinoma in adults with cystic fibrosis. Lancet 1985, 2:862–863.
Kopito LE, Shwachman H: The pancreas in cystic fibrosis: chemical composition and comparative morphology. Pediatr Res 1976, 10:742–749.
Couce M, O'Brien TD, Moran A, Roche PC, Butler PC: Diabetes mellitus in cystic fibrosis is characterized by islet amyloidosis. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 1996, 81:1267–1272.
Conway SP, Morton AM, Oldroyd B, Truscott JG, White H, Smith AH, Haigh I: Osteoporosis and osteopenia in adults and adolescents with cystic fibrosis: prevalence and associated factors. Thorax 2000, 55:798–804.
Donovan DS Jr, Papadopoulos A, Staron RB, Addesso V, Schulman L, McGregor C, Cosman F, Lindsay RL, Shane E: Bone mass and vitamin D deficiency in adults with advanced cystic fibrosis lung disease. Am J Respir Crit Care Med 1998, 157:1892–1899.
Jilka RL, Hangoc G, Girasole G, Passeri G, Williams DC, Abrams JS, Boyce B, Broxmeyer H, Manolagas SC: Increased osteoclast development after estrogen loss: mediation by interleukin-6. Science 1992, 257:88–91.
Bachrach LK, Loutit CW, Moss RB: Osteopenia in adults with cystic fibrosis. Am J Med 1994, 96:27–34.
Claustres M, Guittard C, Bozon D, Chevalier F, Verlingue C, Ferec C, Girodon E, Cazeneuve C, Bienvenu T, Lalau G, Dumur V, Feldmann D, Bieth E, Blayau M, Clavel C, Creveaux I, Malinge MC, Monnier N, Malzac P, Mittre H, Chomel JC, Bonnefont JP, Iron A, Chery M, Georges MD: Spectrum of CFTR mutations in cystic fibrosis and in congenital absence of the vas deferens in France. Hum Mutat 2000, 16:143–156.
Mickle JE, Cutting GR: Clinical implications of cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator mutations. Clin Chest Med 1998, 19:443–58.
Gervais R, Dumur V, Letombe B, Larde A, Rigot JM, Roussel P, Lafitte JJ: Hypofertility with thick cervical mucus: another mild form of cystic fibrosis? J Am Med Ass 1996, 276:1638.
Cohn JA, Friedman KJ, Noone PG, Knowles MR, Silverman LM, Jowell PS: Relation between mutations of the cystic fibrosis gene and idiopathic pancreatitis. N Engl J Med 1998, 339:653–658.
Boyle MP: Minocycline-induced pancreatitis in cystic fibrosis. Chest 2000, in press.
Wang X, Moylan B, Leopold DA, Kim J, Rubenstein RC, Togias A, Proud D, Zeitlin PL, Cutting GR: Mutation in the gene responsible for cystic fibrosis and predisposition to chronic rhinosinusitis in the general population. J Am Med Ass 2000, 284:1814–1819.
Friedman KJ, Heim RA, Knowles MR, Silverman LM: Rapid characterization of the variable length polythymidine tract in the cystic fibrosis (CFTR) gene: association of the 5T allele with selected CFTR mutations and its incidence in atypical sinopulmonary disease. Hum Mutat 1997, 10:108–115.
Casals T, Bassas L, Ruiz-Romero J, Chillon M, Gimenez J, Ramos MD, Tapia G, Narvaez H, Nunes V, Estivill X: Extensive analysis of 40 infertile patients with congenital absence of the vas deferens: in 50% of cases only one CFTR allele could be detected. Hum Genet 1995, 95:205–211.
Miller PW, Hamosh A, Macek M Jr, Greenberger PA, MacLean J, Walden SM, Slavin RG, Cutting GR: Cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) gene mutations in allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis. Am J Hum Genet 1996, 59:45–51.
Bombieri C, Benetazzo M, Saccomani A, Belpinati F, Gile LS, Luisetti M, Pignatti PF: Complete mutational screening of the CFTR gene in 120 patients with pulmonary disease. Hum Genet 1998, 103:718–722.
Rights and permissions
About this article
Cite this article
Boyle, M.P. Unique presentations and chronic complications in adult cystic fibrosis: do they teach us anything about CFTR?. Respir Res 1, 3 (2000). https://doi.org/10.1186/rr23
- congenital bilateral absence of the vas deferens
- cystic fibrosis
- cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator