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Trans Am Clin Climatol Assoc. 2012;123:93-105; discussion 106.

Water homeostasis: evolutionary medicine.

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Harvard Medical School, Department of Medicine, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, 330 Brookline Avenue, Boston, MA 02215, USA.


As a major component of homeostasis, all organisms regulate the water composition of various compartments. Through the selective use of barrier membranes and surface glycoproteins, as well as aquaporin water channels, organisms ranging from Archaebacteria to humans can vary water permeabilities across their cell membranes by 4 to 5 orders of magnitude. In barrier epithelia the outer, or exofacial, leaflet acts as the main resistor to water flow; this leaflet restricts water flow by minimizing the surface area of lipid molecules which is not covered by phosphate headgroups and by packing hydrocarbon chains at maximal density. Cells may enhance the barrier by expressing glycoproteins that augment the "thickness" of unstirred layers at their surfaces, reducing osmotic gradients at the lipid bilayer surface. Aquaporins markedly and highly selectively accelerate water flux and are "switched on" either by deployment into membranes or gating. This review summarizes these mechanisms in many species, and indicates potential roles for manipulating water permeabilities in treating disease.

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