Does epithelial sodium channel hyperactivity contribute to cystic fibrosis lung disease?

J Physiol. 2013 Sep 15;591(18):4377-87. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2012.240861. Epub 2013 Jul 22.


Airway epithelia absorb Na+ through the epithelial Na+ channel (ENaC) and secrete Cl- through the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) anion channel. This balance maintains sufficient airway surface liquid hydration to permit efficient mucus clearance, which is needed to maintain sterility of the lung. Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a common autosomal recessive inherited disease caused by mutations in the CFTR gene that lead to the reduction or elimination of the CFTR protein. CF is a multi-organ disease that affects epithelia lining the intestines, lungs, pancreas, sweat ducts and vas deferens, among others. CF lungs are characterized by viscous, dehydrated mucus, persistent neutrophilia and chronic infections. ENaC is negatively regulated by CFTR and, in patients with CF, the absence of CFTR results in a double hit of reduced Cl-/HCO3- and H2O secretion as well as ENaC hyperactivity and increased Na+ and H2O absorption. Together, these effects are hypothesized to trigger mucus dehydration, resulting in a failure to clear mucus. Rehydrating CF mucus has become a recent clinical focus and yields important end-points for clinical trials. However, while ENaC hyperactivity in CF airways has been detected in vivo and in vitro, recent data have brought the role of ENaC in CF lung disease pathogenesis into question. This review will focus on our current understanding of the contribution of ENaC to CF pathogenesis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Absorption
  • Animals
  • Cystic Fibrosis / metabolism*
  • Epithelial Sodium Channels / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Lung / metabolism*
  • Sodium / metabolism


  • Epithelial Sodium Channels
  • Sodium