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Br J Pharmacol. 2011 Dec;164(7):1780-92. doi: 10.1111/j.1476-5381.2011.01377.x.

The emerging physiological roles of the SLC14A family of urea transporters.

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School of Biology & Environmental Science, College of Life Sciences, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin, Ireland.


In mammals, urea is the main nitrogenous breakdown product of protein catabolism and is produced in the liver. In certain tissues, the movement of urea across cell membranes is specifically mediated by a group of proteins known as the SLC14A family of facilitative urea transporters. These proteins are derived from two distinct genes, UT-A (SLC14A2) and UT-B (SLC14A1). Facilitative urea transporters play an important role in two major physiological processes - urinary concentration and urea nitrogen salvaging. Although UT-A and UT-B transporters both have a similar basic structure and mediate the transport of urea in a facilitative manner, there are a number of significant differences between them. UT-A transporters are mainly found in the kidney, are highly specific for urea, have relatively lower transport rates and are highly regulated at both gene expression and cellular localization levels. In contrast, UT-B transporters are more widespread in their tissue location, transport both urea and water, have a relatively high transport rate, are inhibited by mercurial compounds and currently appear to be less acutely regulated. This review details the fundamental research that has so far been performed to investigate the function and physiological significance of these two types of urea transporters.

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