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Am J Physiol. 1995 Jun;268(6 Pt 2):F983-96.

Molecular basis of osmotic regulation.

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National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, Bethesda, Maryland 20892-1598, USA.


Cells almost universally respond to the stress of long-term hyperosmolality by accumulating compatible organic osmolytes. This allows them to maintain normal cell volume without a deleterious increase in intracellular inorganic ion concentration. Cells in the renal inner medulla are exposed to variable concentrations of salt and urea that may reach molal levels. The organic osmolytes that they accumulate include sorbitol, betaine, inositol, taurine, and glycerophosphocholine (GPC). This review considers recent advances in understanding osmotic regulation of these substances. Sorbitol is synthesized from glucose catalyzed by aldose reductase. Hypertonicity elevates the abundance of this enzyme by increasing transcription of its gene. Betaine is taken up via a specialized transporter. Hypertonicity raises the number of transporters by increasing their transcription. Current studies demonstrate that the 5' regions flanking the aldose reductase and betaine transporter genes contain osmotic response elements that increase transcription in response to hypertonicity. Osmotic regulation of inositol and taurine uptake also involves increased expression of specific transporter genes. GPC is unique in that its level rises in response to high urea, as well as hypertonicity. GPC accumulation is mainly regulated by changes in its degradation to choline, catalyzed by GPC:choline phosphodiesterase. Numerous other genes, including those for heat shock proteins, are also induced by hypertonicity. Their regulation and their role in osmotic regulation are the subject of considerable ongoing research.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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