We investigated whether mutations in the genes that code for the different subunits of the amiloride-sensitive epithelial sodium channel (ENaC) might result in cystic fibrosis (CF)-like disease. In a small fraction of the patients, the disease could be potentially explained by an ENaC mutation by a Mendelian mechanism, such as p.V114I and p.F61L in SCNN1A. More importantly, a more than three-fold significant increase in incidence of several rare ENaC polymorphisms was found in the patient group (30% vs. 9% in controls), indicating an involvement of ENaC in some patients by a polygenetic mechanism. Specifically, a significantly higher number of patients carried c.-5515G > C or p.W493R in SCNN1A in the heterozygous state, with odds ratios (ORs) of 13.5 and 2.7, respectively. The p.W493R-SCNN1A polymorphism was even found to result in a four-fold more active ENaC channel when heterologously expressed in Xenopus laevis oocytes. About 1 in 975 individuals in the general population will be heterozygous for the hyperactive p.W493R-SCNN1A mutation and a cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) gene that results in very low amounts (0-10%) functional CFTR. These ENaC/CFTR genotypes may play a hitherto unrecognized role in lung diseases.
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