Unraveling the complex genetic model for cystic fibrosis: pleiotropic effects of modifier genes on early cystic fibrosis-related morbidities

Hum Genet. 2014 Feb;133(2):151-61. doi: 10.1007/s00439-013-1363-7. Epub 2013 Sep 22.


The existence of pleiotropy in disorders with multi-organ involvement can suggest therapeutic targets that could ameliorate overall disease severity. Here we assessed pleiotropy of modifier genes in cystic fibrosis (CF). CF, caused by mutations in the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) gene, affects the lungs, liver, pancreas and intestines. However, modifier genes contribute to variable disease severity across affected organs, even in individuals with the same CFTR genotype. We sought to determine whether SLC26A9, SLC9A3 and SLC6A14, that contribute to meconium ileus in CF, are pleiotropic for other early-affecting CF co-morbidities. In the Canadian CF population, we assessed evidence for pleiotropic effects on (1) pediatric lung disease severity (n = 815), (2) age at first acquisition of Pseudomonas aeruginosa (P. aeruginosa) (n = 730), and (3) prenatal pancreatic damage measured by immunoreactive trypsinogen (n = 126). A multiple-phenotype analytic strategy assessed evidence for pleiotropy in the presence of phenotypic correlation. We required the same alleles to be associated with detrimental effects. SLC26A9 was pleiotropic for meconium ileus and pancreatic damage (p = 0.002 at rs7512462), SLC9A3 for meconium ileus and lung disease (p = 1.5 × 10(-6) at rs17563161), and SLC6A14 for meconium ileus and both lung disease and age at first P. aeruginosa infection (p = 0.0002 and p = 0.006 at rs3788766, respectively). The meconium ileus risk alleles in SLC26A9, SLC9A3 and SLC6A14 are pleiotropic, increasing risk for other early CF co-morbidities. Furthermore, co-morbidities affecting the same organ tended to associate with the same genes. The existence of pleiotropy within this single disorder suggests that complementary therapeutic strategies to augment solute transport will benefit multiple CF-associated tissues.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alleles
  • Amino Acid Transport Systems
  • Amino Acid Transport Systems, Neutral / genetics
  • Antiporters / genetics
  • Canada / epidemiology
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cystic Fibrosis / epidemiology
  • Cystic Fibrosis / genetics*
  • Cystic Fibrosis / pathology
  • Cystic Fibrosis Transmembrane Conductance Regulator / genetics*
  • Female
  • Genes, Modifier / genetics*
  • Genetic Pleiotropy / genetics*
  • Genotype
  • Humans
  • Ileus / genetics
  • Ileus / physiopathology
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Meconium
  • Models, Genetic
  • Morbidity
  • Mutation
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide
  • Pseudomonas Infections / epidemiology
  • Pseudomonas Infections / genetics*
  • Pseudomonas Infections / pathology
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / physiology*
  • Sodium-Hydrogen Exchanger 3
  • Sodium-Hydrogen Exchangers / genetics
  • Sulfate Transporters


  • Amino Acid Transport Systems
  • Amino Acid Transport Systems, Neutral
  • Antiporters
  • CFTR protein, human
  • SLC26A9 protein, human
  • SLC6A14 protein, human
  • SLC9A3 protein, human
  • Sodium-Hydrogen Exchanger 3
  • Sodium-Hydrogen Exchangers
  • Sulfate Transporters
  • Cystic Fibrosis Transmembrane Conductance Regulator