CFTR and calcium-activated chloride channels in primary cultures of human airway gland cells of serous or mucous phenotype

Horst Fischer, Beate Illek, Lorne Sachs, Walter E. Finkbeiner, Jonathan H. Widdicombe


Using cell culture models, we have investigated the relative importance of cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) and calcium-activated chloride channels (CaCC) in Cl secretion by mucous and serous cells of human airway glands. In transepithelial recordings in Ussing chambers, the CFTR inhibitor CFTRinh-172 abolished 60% of baseline Cl secretion in serous cells and 70% in mucous. Flufenamic acid (FFA), an inhibitor of CaCC, reduced baseline Cl secretion by ∼20% in both cell types. Methacholine and ATP stimulated Cl secretion in both cell types, which was largely blocked by treatment with 1,2-bis(2-aminophenoxy)ethane-N,N,N′,N′-tetraacetic acid (BAPTA) and partially by mucosal FFA or CFTRinh-172 with the exception of methacholine responses in mucous cells, which were not blocked by FFA and partially (∼60%) by CFTRinh-172. The effects of ionomycin on short-circuit current (Isc) were less than those of ATP or methacholine. Forskolin stimulated Cl secretion only if Cl in the mucosal medium was replaced by gluconate. In whole cell patch-clamp studies of single isolated cells, cAMP-induced Cl currents were ∼3-fold greater in serous than mucous cells. Ionomycin-induced Cl currents were 13 times (serous) or 26 times (mucous) greater than those generated by cAMP and were blocked by FFA. In serous cells, mRNA for transmembrane protein 16A (TMEM16A) was ∼10 times more abundant than mRNA for CFTR. In mucous cells it was ∼100 times more abundant. We conclude: 1) serous and mucous cells both make significant contributions to gland fluid secretion; 2) baseline Cl secretion in both cell types is mediated predominantly by CFTR, but CaCC becomes increasingly important after mediator-induced elevations of intracellular Ca; and 3) the high CaCC currents seen in patch-clamp studies and the high TMEM16A expression in intact polarized cells sheets are not reflected in transepithelial current recordings.

  • airway mucous cells
  • airway serous cells
  • TMEM16A
  • whole cell patch-clamp
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