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J Biol Chem. 1999 Mar 12;274(11):6817-9.

Switch from an aquaporin to a glycerol channel by two amino acids substitution.

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UPRES-A CNRS 6026, Biologie Cellulaire et Reproduction, Equipe Canaux et Récepteurs Membranaires, Université de Rennes 1, Campus de Beaulieu, Bâtiment 13, 35042 Rennes cedex, France.


The MIP (major intrinsic protein) proteins constitute a channel family of currently 150 members that have been identified in cell membranes of organisms ranging from bacteria to man. Among these proteins, two functionally distinct subgroups are characterized: aquaporins that allow specific water transfer and glycerol channels that are involved in glycerol and small neutral solutes transport. Since the flow of small molecules across cell membranes is vital for every living organism, the study of such proteins is of particular interest. For instance, aquaporins located in kidney cell membranes are responsible for reabsorption of 150 liters of water/day in adult human. To understand the molecular mechanisms of solute transport specificity, we analyzed mutant aquaporins in which highly conserved residues have been substituted by amino acids located at the same positions in glycerol channels. Here, we show that substitution of a tyrosine and a tryptophan by a proline and a leucine, respectively, in the sixth transmembrane helix of an aquaporin leads to a switch in the selectivity of the channel, from water to glycerol.

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