If you call to say that you're having car trouble, your boss will most likely assume there's a mechanical problem. It might be, though, that your car has been stolen. Likewise, most mutations cause disease by altering a crucial protein's function. But in some diseases, such as cystic fibrosis, the problem seems to be that a functioning protein goes astray. Ways to shepherd these missing proteins back into place may offer novel treatments for these diseases.
In the United States, about 30,000 people have cystic fibrosis. The disease can be caused by thousands of different mutations within a gene that encodes a cell-membrane channel for the chloride ion. The ensuing faulty intercellular movement of chloride, as well as sodium, somehow produces abnormally thick, sticky mucus that can clog organs such as the lungs and pancreas.
More than 70 percent of people with cystic fibrosis have a single mutation that causes the chloride channel protein to go astray before it reaches i