Influence of highly effective modulator therapy on the sputum proteome in cystic fibrosis

Rosemary E. Maher, Peter J. Barry, Edward Emmott, Andrew M. Jones, Lijing Lin, Paul S. McNamara, Jaclyn A. Smith, Robert W. Lord

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: There have been dramatic clinical improvements in people with cystic fibrosis (PwCF) commenced on the cystic fibrosis conductance regulator (CFTR) modulator elexacaftor/tezacaftor/ivacaftor (ETI). Sputum proteomics is a powerful research technique capable of identifying important airway disease mechanisms. Using this technique, we evaluated how ETI changes the sputum proteome in PwCF. Methods: Sputum samples from 21 CF subjects pre- and post- ETI, 6 CF controls ineligible for ETI, and 15 healthy controls were analysed by liquid chromatography mass spectrometry. Results: Post-ETI, mean FEV1 % increased by 13.7 % (SD 7.9). Principal component and hierarchical clustering analysis revealed that the post-ETI proteome shifted to an intermediate state that was distinct from pre-ETI and healthy controls, even for those achieving normal lung function. Functional analysis showed incomplete resolution of neutrophilic inflammation. The CF control sputum proteome did not alter. At the protein-level many more proteins increased in abundance than decreased following ETI therapy (80 vs 30; adjusted p value <0.05), including many that have anti-inflammatory properties. Of those proteins that reduced in abundance many were pro-inflammatory neutrophil-derived proteins. Several important respiratory proteases were unchanged. Conclusions: Sputum proteomics can provide insights into CF lung disease mechanisms and how they are modified by therapeutic intervention, in this case ETI. This study identifies imbalances in pro- and anti- inflammatory proteins in sputum that partially resolve with ETI even in those achieving normal spirometry values. This post-ETI intermediate state could contribute to ongoing airway damage and therefore its relevance to clinical outcomes needs to be established.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Cystic Fibrosis
Early online date10 Nov 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 10 Nov 2023


  • CFTR modulation
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Elexacaftor/tezacaftor/ivacaftor
  • Sputum proteomics


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