Cystic fibrosis: lessons from the sweat gland

Physiology (Bethesda). 2007 Jun;22:212-25. doi: 10.1152/physiol.00041.2006.


Lessons from the sweat gland on cystic fibrosis (CF) began long before modern medicine became a science. In European folklore, the curse that "a child that taste salty when kissed will soon die" (Alonso y de los Ruyzes de Fonteca J. Diez Previlegios para Mugeres Prenadas. Henares, Spain, 1606) has been taken by many as a direct reference to cystic fibrosis [Busch R. Acta Univ Carol Med (Praha) 36: 13-15, 1990]. The high salt concentration in sweat from patients with CF is now accepted as almost pathognomonic with this fatal genetic disease, but the earliest descriptions of cystic fibrosis as a disease entity did not mention sweat or sweat glands (Andersen DH. Am J Dis Child 56: 344-399, 1938; Andersen DH, Hodges RG. Am J Dis Child 72: 62-80, 1946). Nonetheless, defective sweating soon became an inseparable, and major, component of the constellation of symptoms that diagnose "cystic fibrosis" (Davis PB. Am J Respir Crit Care Med 173: 475-482, 2006). The sweat gland has played a foremost role in diagnosing, defining pathophysiology, debunking misconceptions, and increasing our understanding of the effects of the disease on organs, tissues, cells, and molecules. The sweat gland has taught us much.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cystic Fibrosis / genetics
  • Cystic Fibrosis / metabolism*
  • Cystic Fibrosis / physiopathology*
  • Cystic Fibrosis Transmembrane Conductance Regulator / genetics
  • Cystic Fibrosis Transmembrane Conductance Regulator / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Sweat Glands / metabolism*
  • Sweat Glands / physiopathology*


  • CFTR protein, human
  • Cystic Fibrosis Transmembrane Conductance Regulator