Meconium ileus, intestinal obstruction in the newborn, is caused in most cases by CFTR mutations modulated by yet-unidentified modifier genes. We now show that in two unrelated consanguineous Bedouin kindreds, an autosomal-recessive phenotype of meconium ileus that is not associated with cystic fibrosis (CF) is caused by different homozygous mutations in GUCY2C, leading to a dramatic reduction or fully abrogating the enzymatic activity of the encoded guanlyl cyclase 2C. GUCY2C is a transmembrane receptor whose extracellular domain is activated by either the endogenous ligands, guanylin and related peptide uroguanylin, or by an external ligand, Escherichia coli (E. coli) heat-stable enterotoxin STa. GUCY2C is expressed in the human intestine, and the encoded protein activates the CFTR protein through local generation of cGMP. Thus, GUCY2C is a likely candidate modifier of the meconium ileus phenotype in CF. Because GUCY2C heterozygous and homozygous mutant mice are resistant to E. coli STa enterotoxin-induced diarrhea, it is plausible that GUCY2C mutations in the desert-dwelling Bedouin kindred are of selective advantage.
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