Water transport across mammalian cell membranes

A. S. Verkman, Alfred N. Van Hoek, Tonghui Ma, Antonio Frigeri, W. R. Skach, Alok Mitra, B. K. Tamarappoo, Javier Farinas

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

285 Scopus citations


This review summarizes recent progress in water-transporting mechanisms across cell membranes. Modern biophysical concepts of water transport and new measurement strategies are evaluated. A family of water-transporting proteins (water channels, aquaporins) has been identified, consisting of small hydrophobic proteins expressed widely in epithelial and nonepithelial tissues. The functional properties, genetics, and cellular distributions of these proteins are summarized. The majority of molecular-level information about water-transporting mechanisms comes from studies on CHIP28, a 28-kDa glycoprotein that forms tetramers in membranes; each monomer contains six putative helical domains surrounding a central aqueous pathway and functions independently as a water-selective channel. Only mutations in the vasopressin-sensitive water channel have been shown to cause human disease (non-X-linked congenital nephrogenic diabetes insipidus); the physiological significance of other water channels remains unproven. One mercurial- insensitive water channel has been identified, which has the unique feature of multiple overlapping transcriptional units. Systems for expression of water channel proteins are described, including Xenopus oocytes, mammalian and insect cells, and bacteria. Further work should be directed at elucidation of the role of water channels in normal physiology and disease, molecular analysis of regulatory mechanisms, and water channel structure determination at atomic resolution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)C12-C30
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Cell Physiology
Issue number1 39-1
StatePublished - Jan 1996
Externally publishedYes


  • CHIP28
  • aquaporins
  • epithelia
  • fluorescence
  • kidney tubules
  • protein structure
  • water channel
  • water permeability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Cell Biology


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