Warning Drips

By Paul D. Thacker|Monday, January 01, 2001

Suffering from chronic sinusitis? Your troubles may lie in your DNA. Gary Cutting of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine has found that 7 percent of patients complaining of repeated sinus infections carry a mutated version of CFTR, the gene responsible for cystic fibrosis.

Sinus problems are endemic among cystic fibrosis patients, who have two copies of the defective gene. Cutting's study shows that seemingly healthy people with a single copy often are affected as well, probably because CFTR regulates the fluid that bathes the cells lining the mucous membranes in the nose and sinuses. Common responses to chronic sinus infections— such as moving to the dry deserts of Arizona— could exacerbate the condition among mutant CFTR carriers by further drying out mucous membranes. "Turning off the taps might not be the right idea. You might want to turn them on more," says Cutting. He suggests that drugs used to treat cystic fibrosis might help alleviate symptoms.

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