Rethinking cystic fibrosis pathology: the critical role of abnormal reduced glutathione (GSH) transport caused by CFTR mutation. Academic Article uri icon


  • Though the cause of cystic fibrosis (CF) pathology is understood to be the mutation of the CFTR protein, it has been difficult to trace the exact mechanisms by which the pathology arises and progresses from the mutation. Recent research findings have noted that the CFTR channel is not only permeant to chloride anions, but other, larger organic anions, including reduced glutathione (GSH). This explains the longstanding finding of extracellular GSH deficit and dramatically reduced extracellular GSH:GSSG (glutathione disulfide) ratio found to be chronic and progressive in CF patients. Given the vital role of GSH as an antioxidant, a mucolytic, and a regulator of inflammation, immune response, and cell viability via its redox status in the human body, it is reasonable to hypothesize that this condition plays some role in the pathogenesis of CF. This hypothesis is advanced by comparing the literature on pathological phenomena associated with GSH deficiency to the literature documenting CF pathology, with striking similarities noted. Several puzzling hallmarks of CF pathology, including reduced exhaled NO, exaggerated inflammation with decreased immunocompetence, increased mucus viscoelasticity, and lack of appropriate apoptosis by infected epithelial cells, are better understood when abnormal GSH transport from epithelia (those without anion channels redundant to the CFTR at the apical surface) is added as an additional explanatory factor. Such epithelia should have normal levels of total glutathione (though perhaps with diminished GSH:GSSG ratio in the cytosol), but impaired GSH transport due to CFTR mutation should lead to progressive extracellular deficit of both total glutathione and GSH, and, hypothetically, GSH:GSSG ratio alteration or even total glutathione deficit in cells with redundant anion channels, such as leukocytes, lymphocytes, erythrocytes, and hepatocytes. Therapeutic implications, including alternative methods of GSH augmentation, are discussed.

published proceedings

  • Free Radic Biol Med

altmetric score

  • 14

author list (cited authors)

  • Hudson, V. M.

citation count

  • 139

complete list of authors

  • Hudson, VM

publication date

  • January 2001