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J Exp Biol. 2009 Jun;212(Pt 11):1707-15. doi: 10.1242/jeb.024125.

Aquaporins: translating bench research to human disease.

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Department of Medicine, Cardiovascular Research Institute, University of California, San Francisco, CA 94143, USA.


There is considerable potential for translating knowledge of aquaporin structure, function and physiology to the clinic. One area is in aquaporin-based diagnostics. The discovery of AQP4 autoantibodies as a marker of the neuromyelitis optica form of multiple sclerosis has allowed precise diagnosis of this disease. Other aquaporin-based diagnostics are possible. Another area is in aquaporin-based genetics. Genetic diseases caused by loss-of-function mutations in aquaporins include nephrogenic diabetes insipidus and cataracts, and functionally significant aquaporin polymorphisms are beginning to be explored. Perhaps of greatest translational potential is aquaporin-based therapeutics. Information largely from aquaporin knockout mice has implicated key roles of aquaporin-facilitated water transport in transepithelial fluid transport (urinary concentrating, gland fluid secretion), water movement into and out of the brain, cell migration (angiogenesis, tumor metastasis, wound healing) and neural function (sensory signaling, seizures). A subset of aquaporins that transport both water and glycerol, the 'aquaglyceroporins', regulate glycerol content in epidermal, fat and other tissues, and are involved in skin hydration, cell proliferation, carcinogenesis and fat metabolism. Aquaporin-based modulator drugs are predicted to be of broad potential utility in the treatment of edematous states, cancer, obesity, wound healing, epilepsy and glaucoma. These exciting possibilities and their associated challenges are reviewed.

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