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Background: Aberrant responses by the cystic fibrosis airway epithelium during viral infection may underly the clinical observations. Whether CFTR modulators affect antiviral responses by CF epithelia is presently unknown. We tested the hypothesis that treatment of CF epithelial cells with ivacaftor (Iva) or ivacaftor/lumacaftor (Iva/Lum) would improve control of rhinovirus infection.

Methods: Nineteen CF epithelial cultures (10 homozygous for p.Phe508del as CFTR Class 2, 9 p.Phe508del/p.Gly551Asp as Class 3) were infected with rhinovirus 1B at multiplicity of infection 12 for 24 h. Culture RNA and supernatants were harvested to assess gene and protein expression respectively.

Results: RNA-seq analysis comparing rhinovirus infected cultures to control identified 796 and 629 differentially expressed genes for Class 2 and Class 3, respectively. This gene response was highly conserved when cells were treated with CFTR modulators and were predicted to be driven by the same interferon-pathway transcriptional regulators (IFNA, IFNL1, IFNG, IRF7, STAT1). Direct comparisons between treated and untreated infected cultures did not yield any differentially expressed genes for Class 3 and only 68 genes for Class 2. Changes were predominantly related to regulators of lipid metabolism and inflammation, aspects of epithelial biology known to be dysregulated in CF. In addition, CFTR modulators did not affect viral copy number, or levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines produced post-infection.

Conclusions: Though long-term clinical data is not yet available, results presented here suggest that first generation CFTR modulators do not interfere with core airway epithelial responses to rhinovirus infection. Future work should investigate the latest triple modulation therapies.

Authors: Emma De Jong, Luke W Garratt, Kevin Looi, Amy H Y Lee, Kak-Ming Ling, Maren L Smith, Reza Falsafi, Erika N Sutanto, Jessica Hillas, Thomas Iosifidis, Kelly M Martinovich, Nicole C Shaw, Samuel T Montgomery, Elizabeth Kicic-Starcevich, Francis J Lannigan, Shyan Vijayasekaran, Robert E W Hancock, Stephen M Stick, Anthony Kicic, WAERP; AREST CF