Capitalizing on the heterogeneous effects of CFTR nonsense and frameshift variants to inform therapeutic strategy for cystic fibrosis

Neeraj Sharma, Taylor A. Evans, Matthew J. Pellicore, Emily Davis, Melis A. Aksit, Allison F. McCague, Anya T. Joynt, Zhongzhu Lu, Sangwoo T. Han, Arianna F. Anzmann, Anh Thu N. Lam, Abigail Thaxton, Natalie West, Christian Merlo, Laura B. Gottschalk, Karen S. Raraigh, Patrick R. Sosnay, Calvin U. Cotton, Garry R. Cutting

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


CFTR modulators have revolutionized the treatment of individuals with cystic fibrosis (CF) by improving the function of existing protein. Unfortunately, almost half of the disease-causing variants in CFTR are predicted to introduce premature termination codons (PTC) thereby causing absence of full-length CFTR protein. We hypothesized that a subset of nonsense and frameshift variants in CFTR allow expression of truncated protein that might respond to FDA-approved CFTR modulators. To address this concept, we selected 26 PTC-generating variants from four regions of CFTR and determined their consequences on CFTR mRNA, protein and function using intron-containing minigenes expressed in 3 cell lines (HEK293, MDCK and CFBE41o-) and patient-derived conditionally reprogrammed primary nasal epithelial cells. The PTC-generating variants fell into five groups based on RNA and protein effects. Group A (reduced mRNA, immature (core glycosylated) protein, function <1% (n = 5)) and Group B (normal mRNA, immature protein, function <1% (n = 10)) variants were unresponsive to modulator treatment. However, Group C (normal mRNA, mature (fully glycosylated) protein, function >1% (n = 5)), Group D (reduced mRNA, mature protein, function >1% (n = 5)) and Group E (aberrant RNA splicing, mature protein, function > 1% (n = 1)) variants responded to modulators. Increasing mRNA level by inhibition of NMD led to a significant amplification of modulator effect upon a Group D variant while response of a Group A variant was unaltered. Our work shows that PTC-generating variants should not be generalized as genetic ‘nulls’ as some may allow generation of protein that can be targeted to achieve clinical benefit.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1007723
JournalPLoS genetics
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)
  • Cancer Research


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