Delivering CFTR to ciliated cells of cystic fibrosis (CF) patients fully restores ion and fluid transport to the lumenal surface of airway epithelium and returns mucus transport rates to those of non-CF airways.
Dysfunction of CFTR in cystic fibrosis (CF) airway epithelium perturbs the normal regulation of ion transport, leading to a reduced volume of airway surface liquid (ASL), mucus dehydration, decreased mucus transport, and mucus plugging of the airways. CFTR is normally expressed in ciliated epithelial cells of the surface and submucosal gland ductal epithelium and submucosal gland acinar cells. Critical questions for the development of gene transfer strategies for CF airway disease are what airway regions require CFTR function and how many epithelial cells require CFTR expression to restore normal ASL volume regulation and mucus transport to CF airway epithelium? An in vitro model of human CF ciliated surface airway epithelium (CF HAE) was used to test whether a human parainfluenza virus (PIV) vector engineered to express CFTR (PIVCFTR) could deliver sufficient CFTR to CF HAE to restore mucus transport, thus correcting the CF phenotype. PIVCFTR delivered CFTR to >60% of airway surface epithelial cells and expressed CFTR protein in CF HAE approximately 100-fold over endogenous levels in non-CF HAE. This efficiency of CFTR delivery fully corrected the basic bioelectric defects of Cl − and Na + epithelial ion transport and restored ASL volume regulation and mucus transport to levels approaching those of non-CF HAE. To determine the numbers of CF HAE surface epithelial cells required to express CFTR for restoration of mucus transport to normal levels, different amounts of PIVCFTR were used to express CFTR in 3%–65% of the surface epithelial cells of CF HAE and correlated to increasing ASL volumes and mucus transport rates. These data demonstrate for the first time, to our knowledge, that restoration of normal mucus transport rates in CF HAE was achieved after CFTR delivery to 25% of surface epithelial cells. In vivo experimentation in appropriate models will be required to determine what level of mucus transport will afford clinical benefit to CF patients, but we predict that a future goal for corrective gene transfer to the CF human airways in vivo would attempt to target at least 25% of surface epithelial cells to achieve mucus transport rates comparable to those in non-CF airways.
The ciliated epithelium that lines the conducting airways of the lung normally functions to transport hydrated mucus secretions out of the airways to maintain respiratory sterility. Cystic fibrosis (CF) lung disease results from reduced airway surface hydration leading to decreased mucus clearance that precipitates bacterial infection and progressive obstructive lung disease. CF is a genetic disease, and the mutant protein is a chloride ion channel (CFTR) that normally regulates ion and fluid transport on the airway surface. Restoration of corrected CFTR function to the airway epithelium of CF patients by delivering a new CFTR gene to airway epithelial cells has long been envisioned as a therapeutic strategy for CF lung disease. Towards this goal, we use a novel viral vector to deliver CFTR to a culture model that represents the ciliated airway epithelium of CF patients and show that this strategy restores airway surface hydration and mucus transport to levels of that in non-CF individuals. This study demonstrates efficient and efficacious CFTR delivery to CF ciliated airway epithelium and that CFTR delivered to approximately 25% of the surface epithelial cells restores normal levels of airway surface hydration and mucus transport. These studies serve as a benchmark for the efficiency of CFTR gene delivery to CF airways for future CF gene therapy studies in vivo.