Sources of Variation in Sweat Chloride Measurements in Cystic Fibrosis

Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2016 Dec 1;194(11):1375-1382. doi: 10.1164/rccm.201603-0459OC.


Rationale: Expanding the use of cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) potentiators and correctors for the treatment of cystic fibrosis (CF) requires precise and accurate biomarkers. Sweat chloride concentration provides an in vivo assessment of CFTR function, but it is unknown the degree to which CFTR mutations account for sweat chloride variation.

Objectives: To estimate potential sources of variation for sweat chloride measurements, including demographic factors, testing variability, recording biases, and CFTR genotype itself.

Methods: A total of 2,639 sweat chloride measurements were obtained in 1,761 twins/siblings from the CF Twin-Sibling Study, French CF Modifier Gene Study, and Canadian Consortium for Genetic Studies. Variance component estimation was performed by nested mixed modeling.

Measurements and main results: Across the tested CF population as a whole, CFTR gene mutations were found to be the primary determinant of sweat chloride variability (56.1% of variation) with contributions from variation over time (e.g., factors related to testing on different days; 13.8%), environmental factors (e.g., climate, family diet; 13.5%), other residual factors (e.g., test variability; 9.9%), and unique individual factors (e.g., modifier genes, unique exposures; 6.8%) (likelihood ratio test, P < 0.001). Twin analysis suggested that modifier genes did not play a significant role because the heritability estimate was negligible (H2 = 0; 95% confidence interval, 0.0-0.35). For an individual with CF, variation in sweat chloride was primarily caused by variation over time (58.1%) with the remainder attributable to residual/random factors (41.9%).

Conclusions: Variation in the CFTR gene is the predominant cause of sweat chloride variation; most of the non-CFTR variation is caused by testing variability and unique environmental factors. If test precision and accuracy can be improved, sweat chloride measurement could be a valuable biomarker for assessing response to therapies directed at mutant CFTR.

Keywords: biomarker; heritability; ivacaftor; lumacaftor; pilocarpine iontophoresis.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Chlorides / metabolism*
  • Cystic Fibrosis / metabolism*
  • Cystic Fibrosis Transmembrane Conductance Regulator / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Sweat / metabolism*
  • Young Adult


  • Biomarkers
  • Chlorides
  • Cystic Fibrosis Transmembrane Conductance Regulator