Hopkins scientists identify molecular details of water transport in the lung

We may sputter and gasp when our drink goes down the wrong pipe, but fluid is vital to a healthy lung. The crucial movement of water across cell membranes in the lung was long thought to be a passive process, but a team of researchers from Hopkins and the University of Aarhus in Denmark have demonstrated that a specific protein plays a major role. The discovery may lead to new treatments for some forms of asthma, pneumonia and pulmonary edema or swelling.

"This is the first study to show that the protein, called aquaporin-1, plays a role in lung function," says Landon King, M.D., assistant professor of pulmonary medicine and lead author of the study. "The aquaporin-1 protein is a water channel that regulates water movement into and out of cells and thus may provide a distinct target for the development of therapies for a variety of lung diseases."

The regulation of water movement is a fundamental requirement at all levels of life, yet the pathway that water follows to cross a cell membrane was unknown until recently, says King. In the early 1990s, Peter Agre, M.D., a Hopkins professor of biochemistry, discovered a protein that formed a channel or pore through which water could travel into and out of the cell. Since then, scientists have identified 10 aquaporin proteins, and similar versions of the molecule exist in all forms of life, including bacteria, yeast and plants.

In the current study, reported in the Jan. 22 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, King and Robert Brown, M.D., associate professor of anesthesiology and critical care medicine at Hopkins, compared lung function in five normal people with lung function in two very rare individuals without the protein but with otherwise normal lungs. The researchers used high-resolution CT scans to monitor blood vessel size and thickness of adjacent airway walls where water regulation is extremely important. To promote the flux of water across blood v

Contact: Trent Stockton
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions

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