Challenging the diagnosis of Cystic Fibrosis in a patient carrying the 186-8T/C allelic variant in the CF Transmembrane Conductance Regulator gene
© Caldrer et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2014
Received: 28 October 2013
Accepted: 28 February 2014
Published: 13 March 2014
This report describe for the first time a clinical case with a CFTR allelic variant 186-8T/C (c.54-8 T/C) in intron 1 of CFTR and underline the importance of applying a combination of genetic and functional tests to establish or exclude a diagnosis of Cystic Fibrosis. In this case the diagnostic algorithm proposed for CF has been successfully applied at our Center and previous CF diagnosis assigned in a different Center was not confirmed.
A 38 year-old Italian woman had been treated as affected by CF since 2010, following diagnosis based on sweat tests (reported values of 73 and 57 mEq/L) and a clinical history consistent with CF. No mutations were identified by first level of genetic analysis. Afterwards the patient referred to our center for assessing the relevance of these findings. The genetic variant 186-8T/C (c.54-8 T/C) in intron 1 of the CFTR gene was detected by sequencing. Low-level interstitial-alveolar infiltration was recorded by high-resolution computerized tomography. Lung function was normal and sputum and Broncho Alveolar Lavage cultures resulted bacteriologically negative. Sweat chloride levels was re-assessed and resulted with values of 57 and 35 mEq/L, with a borderline range between 40 and 60 mEq/L. Nasal Potential Difference measurements resulted in three reliable measurements consistent with a non-CF phenotype. Differential diagnosis with ciliary dyskinesia was excluded, as was exon 2 skipping of CFTR gene that might have caused a CFTR functional defect. Furthermore, single cell fluorescence analysis in response to cAMP agonists performed in patient’s monocytes overlapped those obtained in healthy donors.
We concluded that this patient was not affected by CF. This case highlights the need for referrals to highly specialized centers and the importance of combined functional and genetic tests in making a correct diagnosis. Moreover, we confirmed a correlation between NPD tracings and cell depolarization in monocytes providing a rationale for proposing the use of leukocytes as a potential support for CF diagnosis.
KeywordsCystic Fibrosis Cystic Fibrosis Conductance Transmembrane Regulator Mutation analysis Nasal potential difference measurements Cystic fibrosis conductance transmembrane regulator function
Cystic Fibrosis (CF) is the most commonly occurring severe disease with autosomal recessive inheritance in Caucasians, with an incidence of approximately 1 in 3000, and among sufferers clinical manifestations vary considerably. Mutations in the CF Transmembrane Conductance Regulator (CFTR) gene bring about the disease. Up to now around 1900 mutations in the CFTR gene have been identified (http://www.genet.sickkids.on.ca). Most of them are somewhat rare and this means that genetic test results are not always sufficient for CF diagnosis  and, in addition, a single genotype may result in different clinical symptoms. CF is usually associated with exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, gradual loss of pulmonary function and lung tissue destruction, but it can also be associated with sufficient residual pancreatic function and a much milder clinical picture . CFTR related disorders  include a range of mild conditions caused by CFTR dysfunction, associated with limited deterioration over time and clinical manifestations in at least one organ in the presence of normal or borderline sweat chloride values. The borderline range is between 60 and 40 or 30 mmol/L depending on age and international guidelines [4, 5] with the lowest threshold for normal values only during the first year of age [4, 5] or always according to De Boeck et al. [4, 5]. Sometimes CF diagnosis is challenging and requires, in addition to sweat test and genetic analysis, the use of sophisticated diagnostic tools [6, 7]. They aim at testing CFTR function as ion channel in vivo or ex vivo as under the inferior turbinate of the nose or in rectal biopsies by Nasal Potential Difference (NPD) measurements or intestinal current measurements (ICM), respectively. Both these tests need standardization and validation, and recently European Standard Operative Procedures have been developed by the European Cystic Fibrosis Society Diagnostic Network Working Group for use as a diagnostic aid. Other methods measuring ex vivo the functional properties of CFTR in patients’ tissues utilizing nasal epithelium , leukocytes  or intestinal organoids  have been proposed.
We then considered primary ciliary dyskinesia as a possible, alternative diagnosis. However televideo microscopic technique carried out in a specialized center displayed normal ciliary beat and the saccharin test showed normal ciliary mucus transport, allowing the exclusion of this disease.
Doubts about the original CF diagnosis might also arise from the presence of interstitial infiltration in the lung in the absence of bronchiectasis and of CFTR dysfunction-causing mutations in this patient. Since at our center the patient had normal/ borderline sweat test values we did not investigate for eventual differential diagnosis with diseases associated with a raise in electrolyte levels .
In the case reported, the application at our Center of the CF diagnostic algorithm  was successful and the previous CF-diagnosis was not confirmed (Figure 1). Our interpretation of NPD data seems in agreement with the recommendation provided by Boucher  who underlined the importance to correctly evaluate sodium transport to establish a correct diagnosis when NPD are required. Based on a French study he proposed bronchiectasis to be a multiple hits process or a continuum of ion transport dysfunction measured by NPD according to presence of zero, one or two mutations or genetic variants. Diffuse bronchiectasis are a possible phenotype of CFTR related disorders. In this patients no bronchiectasis were evident by HRCT and low-level infiltrative interstitial lung damage in conjunction with recurrent bronchitis are still of unknown origin.
It is important to consider the negative impact of a wrong diagnosis of CF for a patient and relatives in terms of medical, psychological, social and insurance implications. It is indeed a chronic progressive disease compromising quality and expectancy of life. Considering its autosomal recessive inheritance also for genetic counselling it is very relevant to avoid wrong diagnosis, in particular in this case having no disease causing mutations identified.
This outlines how important is for the CF community to have access to clinical and electrophysiological information on rare mutations; it can lead to further improvements in diagnostic procedure and genetic counseling. A large number of genetic variants of uncertain functional significance have been identified due to the extensive sequencing being carried out, diluting the practical application of this valuable information [17, 18]. Besides CFTR, several modifier genes have also been described as being able to influence CF phenotype . CFTR functional tests are under development  but need to be validated and standardized assays are available only for NPD and intestinal current measurements . Both these measurements are minimally invasive and can be used in selected cases.
In the clinical case reported here, sweat tests and genetic analysis were inconclusive and CFTR functional testing, in accordance with a standard method (NPD), was carried out. In addition, we evaluated a possible exon skipping and CFTR function in leukocytes. None of the results obtained at our Center were consistent with CF diagnosis. An innovative approach using leukocytes was also applied, being potentially more convenient than currently available and standardized approaches. Validation with a large group of subjects is in progress and research to develop simpler, more feasible functional assays in leukocytes and epithelial cells are underway in our and in other Centres, with the aim of providing additional tools for testing genetic variants of uncertain clinical relevance as well as the effects of drugs targeting the basic CF defect.
Written informed consent for publication of their clinical details and/or clinical images was obtained from the patient/parent/guardian/relative of the patient. A copy of the consent form is available for review by the Editor of this journal.
- CFTR CF:
Transmembrane Conductance Regulator gene
High Resolution Computerized Tomography
Nasal potential difference
bis-(1,3-diethylthiobarbituric acid) trimethine oxonol
Broncho Alveolar Lavage.
SC is supported by the Italian CF Research Foundation (grant#06/2010), the work is supported by FFC grant#06/2010, adopted by Delegazione FFC di V.C.O. Verbania, Associazione Trentina FC Onlus Gruppo di Sostegno FFC in ricordo di Silvia Sommavilla, Consorzio Promotre s.c.r.l., Antonio Guadagnin e Figlio, Alessandra Boccanera and FFC #26/2011, adopted by Donatori SMS Solidale 2011, Delegazione FFC di Varese, Associazione Trentina FC onlus and by Lega Italiana Fibrosi Cistica- Associazione Veneta Onlus.
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