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Int Rev Cytol. 2002;215:203-30.

Passive water transport in biological pores.

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Institute of Medical Physiology, The Panum Institute, University of Copenhagen, Denmark.


Three kinds of membrane proteins have been shown to have water channels properties: the aquaporins, the cotransporters, and the uniports. A molecular-kinetic description of water transport in pores is compared to analytical models based on macroscopic parameters such as pore diameter and length. The use and limitations of irreversible thermodynamics is discussed. Experimental data on water and solute permeability in aquaporins are reviewed. No unifying transport model based on macroscopic parameters can be set up; for example, there is no correlation between solute diameter and permeability. Instead, the influence of hydrogen bonds between solute and pore, and the pH dependence of permeability, point toward a model based upon chemical interactions. The atomic model for AQP1 based on electron crystallographic data defines the dimensions and chemical nature of the aqueous pore. These structural data combined with quantum mechanical modeling and computer simulation might result in a realistic description of water transport. Data on water and solute permeability in cotransporters and uniports are reviewed. The function of these proteins as substrate transporters involves a series of conformational changes. The role of conformational equilibria on the water permeability will be discussed.

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