Extensive posttranscriptional deletion of the coding sequences for part of nucleotide-binding fold 1 in respiratory epithelial mRNA transcripts of the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator gene is not associated with the clinical manifestations of cystic fibrosis.
Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a recessive hereditary disorder, requiring both parental cystic fibrosis conductance transmembrane regulator (CFTR) genes to carry mutations for clinical disease to manifest, i.e., only 50% of normal CFTR gene expression is required to maintain a normal phenotype. To help define the minimum amount of normal CFTR gene expression necessary to maintain normalcy, we have capitalized on our prior observation (Chu, C.-S., B. C. Trapnell, J. J. Murtagh, Jr., J. Moss, W. Dalemans, S. Jallat, A. Mercenier, A. Pavirani, J.-P. Lecocq, G. R. Cutting, et al. 1991. EMBO [Eur. Mol. Biol. Organ] J. 10:1355-1363) that normal individuals can have up to 66% of bronchial CFTR mRNA transcripts that are missing exon 9, a region representing 21% of the sequence coding for the critical nucleotide (ATP)-binding fold 1 (NBF1) of the predicted CFTR protein. The study population included 78 individuals with no prior diagnosis of CF. Evaluation of bronchial epithelial cells (obtained by bronchoscopy) revealed that exon 9 was variably deleted in all individuals. Remarkably, there were four individuals, all greater than or equal to 35 yr, in whom bronchial epithelial cells exhibited 73, 89, 90, and 92% CFTR transcripts with inframe deletion of exon 9, respectively, despite normal sweat Cl- and no clinical manifestation of CF. In the context that only 8% or less of bronchial CFTR transcripts need exon 9 to maintain normal airway function, these observations strongly suggest that either exon 9 is not necessary for CFTR structure and/or function or that only a very small fraction of bronchial epithelial cells need to express normal CFTR mRNA transcripts with exon 9 to perform the function of CFTR sufficient to maintain a normal phenotype in vivo.