Cystic fibrosis is a common life-limiting autosomal recessive genetic disorder, with highest prevalence in Europe, North America, and Australia. The disease is caused by mutation of a gene that encodes a chloride-conducting transmembrane channel called the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR), which regulates anion transport and mucociliary clearance in the airways. Functional failure of CFTR results in mucus retention and chronic infection and subsequently in local airway inflammation that is harmful to the lungs. CFTR dysfunction mainly affects epithelial cells, although there is evidence of a role in immune cells. Cystic fibrosis affects several body systems, and morbidity and mortality is mostly caused by bronchiectasis, small airways obstruction, and progressive respiratory impairment. Important comorbidities caused by epithelial cell dysfunction occur in the pancreas (malabsorption), liver (biliary cirrhosis), sweat glands (heat shock), and vas deferens (infertility). The development and delivery of drugs that improve the clearance of mucus from the lungs and treat the consequent infection, in combination with correction of pancreatic insufficiency and undernutrition by multidisciplinary teams, have resulted in remarkable improvements in quality of life and clinical outcomes in patients with cystic fibrosis, with median life expectancy now older than 40 years. Innovative and transformational therapies that target the basic defect in cystic fibrosis have recently been developed and are effective in improving lung function and reducing pulmonary exacerbations. Further small molecule and gene-based therapies are being developed to restore CFTR function; these therapies promise to be disease modifying and to improve the lives of people with cystic fibrosis.
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