Cystic fibrosis (CF) is most frequently due to homozygous ΔF508-CFTR mutation. The ΔF508-CFTR protein is unstable in the plasma membrane (PM), even if it is rescued by pharmacological agents that prevent its intracellular retention and degradation. Restoring defective autophagy in CF airways by proteostasis regulators (such as cystamine and its reduced form, cysteamine) can rescue and stabilize ΔF508-CFTR at the PM, thus enabling the action of CFTR potentiators, which are pharmacological agents that stimulate the function of CFTR as an ion channel. The effects of cystamine extend for days (in vitro) and weeks (in vivo) beyond washout, suggesting that once peripheral proteostasis has been re-established, PM-resident ΔF508-CFTR sustains its own stability. We demonstrated that the pharmacological inhibition of wild-type CFTR [cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (ATP-binding cassette subfamily C, member 7)], in bronchial epithelial cells decreases the stability of the CFTR protein by inhibiting autophagy, elevating the abundance of SQSTM1/p62 and its interaction with CFTR at the PM, increasing the ubiqutination of CFTR, stimulating the lysosomal degradation of CFTR and avoiding its recycling. All these effects could be inhibited by cystamine. Moreover, CFTR-sufficient epithelia generate permissive conditions for incorporating ΔF508-CFTR into the PM and stabilizing it at this location. These results provide the rationale for a combination therapy of CF in which pretreatment with cystamine or cysteamine enables the later action of CFTR potentiators.
Keywords: CFTR; autophagy; conformational diseases; cystic fibrosis; proteostasis.