SLC6A14 Is a Genetic Modifier of Cystic Fibrosis That Regulates Pseudomonas aeruginosa Attachment to Human Bronchial Epithelial Cells

mBio. 2017 Dec 19;8(6):e02073-17. doi: 10.1128/mBio.02073-17.


Cystic fibrosis (CF) is caused by mutations in the CFTR gene and is associated with progressive and ultimately fatal infectious lung disease. There can be considerable variability in disease severity among individuals with the same CFTR mutations, and recent genome-wide association studies have identified secondary genetic factors that contribute to this. One of these modifier genes is SLC6A14, which encodes an amino acid transporter. Importantly, variants of this gene have been associated with age at first acquisition of Pseudomonas aeruginosa In this study, we aimed to determine the function of SLC6A14 in airway epithelia and how it might affect colonization by P. aeruginosa We show that SLC6A14 is expressed in respiratory epithelial cells and transports l-arginine out of the airway surface liquid (ASL). Exposure of airway epithelia to flagellin from P. aeruginosa led to upregulation of SLC6A14 expression and increased SLC6A14-dependent uptake of l-arginine from the ASL. In support of the hypothesis that l-arginine affects P. aeruginosa attachment, we showed that l-arginine supplementation promoted P. aeruginosa attachment to an abiotic surface in a dose-dependent manner. In a coculture model, we found that inhibition of SLC6A14-dependent l-arginine transport enhanced P. aeruginosa attachment. In Slc6a14-/y (knockout) mice, P. aeruginosa attachment to lung tissue was also significantly enhanced. Together, these findings suggest that SLC6A14 activity plays a role in the modification of the initial stages of airway infection by altering the level of l-arginine in the ASL, which in turn affects the attachment of P. aeruginosaIMPORTANCE CF patients with shared CFTR gene mutations show significant variability in their clinical presentation of infectious lung disease. Genome-wide association studies have been used to identify secondary genetic factors that may explain the variable susceptibility to infection by opportunistic pathogens, including P. aeruginosa, the leading cause of pathogen-induced lung damage in nonpediatric CF patients. Once identified and characterized, these secondary genetic modifiers may allow for the development of personalized medicine for patients and ultimately the extension of life. In this study, we interrogated the biological role of one of these modifiers, SLC6A14, and showed that it contributes to host defense by depleting extracellular arginine (an attachment-promoting metabolite for P. aeruginosa) from the airway surface liquid.

Keywords: CFTR mutation; Pseudomonas aeruginosa; SLC6A14; airway epithelia; bacterial colonization; cystic fibrosis; l-arginine uptake; modifier gene.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Transport Systems / deficiency
  • Amino Acid Transport Systems, Neutral / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Arginine / metabolism
  • Bacterial Adhesion*
  • Cystic Fibrosis / complications
  • Epithelial Cells / microbiology*
  • Humans
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Plasma Membrane Neurotransmitter Transport Proteins / deficiency
  • Pseudomonas Infections / physiopathology
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / metabolism
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / physiology*


  • Amino Acid Transport Systems
  • Amino Acid Transport Systems, Neutral
  • Plasma Membrane Neurotransmitter Transport Proteins
  • SLC6A14 protein, human
  • Slc6A14 protein, mouse
  • Arginine