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Pain. 2007 Sep;131(1-2):8-20. Epub 2007 Jan 25.

Anatomical and functional analysis of aquaporin 1, a water channel in primary afferent neurons.

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Departments of Anatomy and Physiology and W. M. Keck Foundation Center for Integrative Neuroscience, University of California San Francisco, San Francisco, CA 94158, USA.


Aquaporin 1 (AQP1) is the archetypal member of a family of water channel proteins that contribute to water homeostasis in kidney, lung, and other tissues. Although there is limited evidence that aquaporins are expressed in the nervous system, AQP4 is expressed in glia and AQP9 is present on some neuronal and glial mitochondria. In the present study, we used immunohistochemistry to show that AQP1 is heavily expressed in a population of small diameter primary sensory neurons of dorsal root, trigeminal, and nodose ganglia. AQP1 immunoreactivity is abundant in DRG cell bodies and in both the peripheral and central branches of primary afferent neurons, and colocalizes with markers of nociceptors, notably substance P and IB4. AQP1 expression in DRG is first detectable at embryonic day 15.5, which corresponds to the developmental stage when the majority of fine cutaneous afferents penetrate the dorsal horn. Electron microscopy revealed dense membrane labeling of unmyelinated axons, a few fine diameter myelinated axons, and synaptic terminals in the superficial dorsal horn. Because this restricted and dense expression suggested that AQP1 contributes to nociceptive processing, we studied behavioral responses of wildtype and AQP1 -/- mice in a comprehensive battery of acute and persistent pain tests. We also used in vivo electrophysiology in wildtype and mutant mice to measure the responses of wide dynamic range neurons in lamina V of the dorsal horn to thermal stimulation before and after noxious stimulus-induced sensitization. To date we have not detected a differential phenotype suggestive of a functional contribution of AQP1 to nociceptive processing.

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