Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a fatal, genetic disorder that critically affects the lungs and is directly caused by mutations in the CF transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) gene, resulting in defective CFTR function. In epithelial cells, the CFTR channel conducts anions and plays a critical role in regulating the volume and composition of airway surface liquid. This thin layer of aqueous fluid and mucus covering the airway surface facilitates mucociliary clearance, bacterial killing, and epithelial cell homeostasis. The importance of the CFTR channel in macrophages was revealed in recent work that demonstrated that defective CFTR function is accompanied by impaired innate immune responses to specific infections. Notably, most CF-associated infections are caused by microbes that are cleared by autophagy in healthy cells. Autophagy is a highly regulated biological process that provides energy during periods of stress and starvation. Autophagy clears pathogens, inflammatory molecules, and dysfunctional protein aggregates within macrophages. However, this process is impaired in CF patients and CF mice, as their cells exhibit limited autophagy activity. The mechanisms linking a malfunctioning ion channel function to the defective autophagy remains unclear. In this chapter, we describe and discuss the recent findings indicating the presence of several mechanisms leading to defective autophagy in CF cells. Thus, these novel data advance our understanding of mechanisms underlying the pathobiology of CF and provide a new therapeutic platform for restoring CFTR function and autophagy in patients with CF.
Part of the book: Autophagy in Current Trends in Cellular Physiology and Pathology