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Biochemistry - Immunology - Pathology - Respiratory Medicine

Defective CFTR Expression and Function Are Detectable in Blood Monocytes: Development of a New Blood Test for Cystic Fibrosis
Published: Thursday, July 21, 2011
Author: Claudio Sorio et al.

by Claudio Sorio, Mario Buffelli, Chiara Angiari, Michele Ettorre, Jan Johansson, Marzia Vezzalini, Laura Viviani, Mario Ricciardi, Genny Verzè, Baroukh Maurice Assael, Paola Melotti


Evaluation of cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) functional activity to assess new therapies and define diagnosis of cystic fibrosis (CF) is cumbersome. It is known that leukocytes express detectable levels of CFTR but the molecule has not been characterized in these cells. In this study we aim at setting up and validating a blood test to evaluate CFTR expression and function in leukocytes.


Western blot, PCR, immunofluorescence and cell membrane depolarization analysis by single-cell fluorescence imaging, using the potential-sensitive DiSBAC2(3) probe were utilized. Expression of PKA phosphorylated, cell membrane-localized CFTR was detected in non-CF monocytes, being undetectable or present in truncated form in monocytes derived from CF patients presenting with nonsense mutations. CFTR agonist administration induced membrane depolarization in monocytes isolated from non-CF donors (31 subjects) and, to a lesser extent, obligate CFTR heterozygous carriers (HTZ: 15 subjects), but it failed in monocytes from CF patients (44 subjects). We propose an index, which values in CF patients are significantly (p<0.001) lower than in the other two groups. Nasal Potential Difference, measured in selected subjects had concordant results with monocytes assay (Kappa statistic 0.93, 95%CI: 0.80–1.00).

Results and Significance

CFTR is detectable and is functional in human monocytes. We also showed that CFTR-associated activity can be evaluated in 5 ml of peripheral blood and devise an index potentially applicable for diagnostic purposes and both basic and translational research: from drug development to evaluation of functional outcomes in clinical trials.