The molecular basis of membrane water-permeability remained elusive until the recent discovery of the aquaporin water-channel proteins. The fundamental importance of these proteins is suggested by their conservation from bacteria through plants to mammals. Ten mammalian aquaporins have thus far been identified, each with a distinct distribution. In the kidney, lung, eye and brain, multiple water-channel homologs are expressed, providing a network for water transport in those locations. It is increasingly clear that alterations in aquaporin expression or function can be rate-limiting for water transport across certain membranes. Aquaporins are likely to prove central to the pathophysiology of a variety of clinical conditions from diabetes insipidus to various forms of edema and, ultimately, they could be a target for therapy in diseases of altered water homeostasis.
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