Mucolytics in cystic fibrosis

Paediatr Respir Rev. 2007 Mar;8(1):24-9. doi: 10.1016/j.prrv.2007.02.009. Epub 2007 Mar 21.


Mucus accumulation in the lower airways is a key feature of cystic fibrosis (CF) lung disease. The major component of mucus in CF is not mucin derived from mucus producing cells but rather pus that includes viscous material such as polymerized DNA derived from degraded neutrophils. This has important implications for mucolytic therapy aiming to improve mucus clearance from the airways, since degradation of mucin may not be a suitable treatment strategy. In addition, thinning of secretions may not always be beneficial, since it may negatively affect certain aspects of mucus transport such as cough clearance. While inhaled N-acetylcysteine has been used as a mucolytic drug in CF for decades, there is little evidence that it has any beneficial effect. Dornase alfa has been shown to reduce pulmonary exacerbations and improve lung function and is currently the only mucolytic agent with proven efficacy in CF. Newer agents targeting other components of CF mucus, such as filamentous actin, are currently in development. Ultimately, drugs that are mucokinetic, which preserve viscoelasticity, rather than mucolytic may prove to be beneficial for CF lung disease in the future.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cystic Fibrosis / drug therapy*
  • Expectorants / therapeutic use*
  • Humans


  • Expectorants