Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a recessive inherited disease caused by mutations affecting anion transport by the epithelial ion channel cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR). The disease is characterized by mucus accumulation in the airways and intestine, but the major cause of mortality in CF is airway mucus accumulation, leading to bacterial colonization, inflammation and respiratory failure. Several drug targets are under evaluation to alleviate airway mucus obstruction in CF and one of these targets is the epithelial sodium channel ENaC. To explore effects of ENaC inhibitors on mucus properties, we used two model systems to investigate mucus characteristics, mucus attachment in mouse ileum and mucus bundle transport in piglet airways. We quantified mucus attachment in explants from CFTR null (CF) mice and tracheobronchial explants from newborn CFTR null (CF) piglets to evaluate effects of ENaC or sodium/hydrogen exchanger (NHE) inhibitors on mucus attachment. ENaC inhibitors detached mucus in the CF mouse ileum, although the ileum lacks ENaC expression. This effect was mimicked by two NHE inhibitors. Airway mucus bundles were immobile in untreated newborn CF piglets but were detached by the therapeutic drug candidate AZD5634 (patent WO 2015140527). These results suggest that the ENaC inhibitor AZD5634 causes detachment of CF mucus in the ileum and airway via NHE inhibition and that drug design should focus on NHE instead of ENaC inhibition.
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