Role of epithelial HCO3⁻ transport in mucin secretion: lessons from cystic fibrosis

Am J Physiol Cell Physiol. 2010 Dec;299(6):C1222-33. doi: 10.1152/ajpcell.00362.2010. Epub 2010 Oct 6.


The invitation to present the 2010 Hans Ussing lecture for the Epithelial Transport Group of the American Physiological Society offered me a unique, special, and very surprising opportunity to join in saluting a man whom I met only once, but whose work was the basis, not only for my career, but also for finding the molecular defect in the inherited disease cystic fibrosis (CF). In this context, I will venture to make the tribute with a new explanation of why a mutation in a single gene that codes for an anion channel can cause devastation of multiple epithelial systems with pathogenic mucus. In so doing, I hope to raise awareness of a new role for that peculiar anion around which so much physiology revolves, HCO(3)(-). I begin by introducing CF pathology as I question the name of the disease as well as the prevalent view of the basis of its pathology by considering: 1) mucus, 2) salt, and 3) HCO(3)(-). I then present recent data showing that HCO(3)(-) is required for normal mucus discharge, and I will close with conjecture as to how HCO(3)(-) may support mucus discharge and why the failure to transport this electrolyte is pathogenic in CF.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bicarbonates / metabolism*
  • Cystic Fibrosis / genetics
  • Cystic Fibrosis / metabolism*
  • Cystic Fibrosis / pathology
  • Cystic Fibrosis Transmembrane Conductance Regulator / genetics
  • Cystic Fibrosis Transmembrane Conductance Regulator / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Ion Transport / genetics
  • Ion Transport / physiology
  • Lung / pathology
  • Lung / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mucins / metabolism*
  • Mucus / metabolism
  • Sodium Chloride / metabolism
  • Sweat Glands / metabolism
  • Sweat Glands / pathology
  • Sweat Glands / physiopathology


  • Bicarbonates
  • Mucins
  • Cystic Fibrosis Transmembrane Conductance Regulator
  • Sodium Chloride