Background: Cystic fibrosis is a life-limiting autosomal recessive disorder with a highly variable clinical presentation. The classic form involves characteristic findings in the respiratory tract, gastrointestinal tract, male reproductive tract, and sweat glands and is caused by loss-of-function mutations in the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) gene. Nonclassic forms of cystic fibrosis have been associated with mutations that reduce but do not eliminate the function of the CFTR protein. We assessed whether alteration in CFTR function is responsible for the entire spectrum of variant cystic fibrosis phenotypes. Methods: Extensive genetic analysis of the CFTR gene was performed in 74 patients with nonclassic cystic fibrosis who had been referred by 34 medical centers. We evaluated two families that each included a proband without identified mutations and a sibling with nonclassic cystic fibrosis to determine whether there was linkage to the CFTR locus and to measure the extent of CFTR function in the sweat gland and nasal epithelium. Results: Of the 74 patients studied, 29 had two mutations in the CFTR gene, 15 had one mutation, and 30 had no mutations. A final genotype of two mutations was more common among patients who had been referred after screening for common cystic fibrosis-causing mutations identified one mutation than among those who had been referred after screening had identified no such mutations (26 of 34 patients vs. 3 of 40 patients, P<0.001). Comparison of clinical features and sweat chloride concentrations revealed no significant differences among patients with two, one, or no CFTR mutations. Haplotype analysis in the two families revealed no linkage to CFTR. Although each of the affected siblings had elevated sweat chloride concentrations, measurements of cyclic AMP-mediated ion and fluid transport in the sweat gland and nasal epithelium demonstrated the presence of functional CFTR. Conclusions: Factors other than mutations in the CFTR gene can produce phenotypes clinically indistinguishable from nonclassic cystic fibrosis caused by CFTR dysfunction.
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