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Biochim Biophys Acta. 1991 Dec 12;1071(4):407-27.

Activation of ion transport pathways by changes in cell volume.

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National Institute of Haematology and Blood Transfusion, Budapest, Hungary.


Swelling-activated K+ and Cl- channels, which mediate RVD, are found in most cell types. Prominent exceptions to this rule include red cells, which together with some types of epithelia, utilize electroneutral [K(+)-Cl-] cotransport for down-regulation of volume. Shrinkage-activated Na+/H+ exchange and [Na(+)-K(+)-2 Cl-] cotransport mediate RVI in many cell types, although the activation of these systems may require special conditions, such as previous RVD. Swelling-activated K+/H+ exchange and Ca2+/Na+ exchange seem to be restricted to certain species of red cells. Swelling-activated calcium channels, although not carrying sufficient ion flux to contribute to volume changes may play an important role in the activation of transport pathways. In this review of volume-activated ion transport pathways we have concentrated on regulatory phenomena. We have listed known secondary messenger pathways that modulate volume-activated transporters, although the evidence that volume signals are transduced via these systems is preliminary. We have focused on several mechanisms that might function as volume sensors. In our view, the most important candidates for this role are the structures which detect deformation or stretching of the membrane and the skeletal filaments attached to it, and the extraordinary effects that small changes in concentration of cytoplasmic macromolecules may exert on the activities of cytoplasmic and membrane enzymes (macromolecular crowding). It is noteworthy that volume-activated ion transporters are intercalated into the cellular signaling network as receptors, messengers and effectors. Stretch-activated ion channels may serve as receptors for cell volume itself. Cell swelling or shrinkage may serve a messenger function in the communication between opposing surfaces of epithelia, or in the regulation of metabolic pathways in the liver. Finally, these transporters may act as effector systems when they perform regulatory volume increase or decrease. This review discusses several examples in which relatively simple methods of examining volume regulation led to the discovery of transporters ultimately found to play key roles in the transmission of information within the cell. So, why volume? Because it's functionally important, it's relatively cheap (if you happened to have everything else, you only need some distilled water or concentrated salt solution), and since it involves many disciplines of experimental biology, it's fun to do.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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