The aquaporins are a family of membrane channel proteins that serve as selective pores through which water crosses the plasma membranes of many human tissues and cell types. The sites where aquaporins are expressed implicate these proteins in renal water reabsorption, cerebrospinal fluid secretion and reabsorption, generation of pulmonary secretions, aqueous humor secretion and reabsorption, lacrimation, and multiple other physiologic processes. Determination of the aquaporin gene sequences and their chromosomal locations has provided insight into the structure and pathophysiologic roles of these proteins, and primary and secondary involvement of aquaporins is becoming apparent in diverse clinical disorders. Aquaporin-1 (AQP1) is expressed in multiple tissues including red blood cells, and the Colton blood group antigens represent a polymorphism on the AQP1 protein. AQP2 is restricted to renal collecting ducts and has been linked to congenital nephrogenic diabetes insipidus in humans and to lithium- induced nephrogenic diabetes insipidus and fluid retention from congestive heart failure in rat models. Congenital cataracts result from mutations in the mouse gene encoding the lens homolog Aqp0 (Mip). The present understanding of aquaporin physiology is still incomplete; identification of additional members of the aquaporin family will affect future studies of multiple disorders of water distribution throughout the body. In some tissues, the aquaporins may participate in the transepithelial movement of fluid without being rate limiting, so aquaporins may be involved in clinical disorders without being causative. As outlined in this review, our challenge is to identify disease states in which aquaporins are involved, to define the aquaporins' roles mechanistically, and to search for ways to exploit this information therapeutically.
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