Role of CFTR in Airway Disease. Physiol. Rev. 79, Suppl.: S215-S255, 1999. - Cystic fibrosis (CF) is caused by mutations in the gene encoding the CF transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR), which accounts for the cAMP-regulated chloride conductance of airway epithelial cells. Lung disease is the chief cause of morbidity and mortality in CF patients. This review focuses on mechanisms whereby the deletion or impairment of CFTR chloride channel function produces lung disease. It examines the major themes of the channel hypothesis of CF, which involve impaired regulation of airway surface fluid volume or composition. Available evidence indicates that the effect of CFTR deletion alters physiological functions of both surface and submucosal gland epithelia. At the airway surface, deletion of CFTR causes hyperabsorption of sodium chloride and a reduction in the periciliary salt and water content, which impairs mucociliary clearance. In submucosal glands, loss of CFTR-mediated salt and water secretion compromises the clearance of mucins and a variety of defense substances onto the airway surface. Impaired mucociliary clearance, together with CFTR-related changes in the airway surface microenvironment, leads to a progressive cycle of infection, inflammation, and declining lung function. Here, we provide the details of this pathophysiological cascade in the hope that its understanding will promote the development of new therapies for CF.