Specialized membrane domains for water transport in glial cells: high resolution immunogold cytochemistry of aquaporin-4 in rat brain
Ottersen, Ole Petter
Nagelhus, Erlend Arnulf
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Membrane water transport is critically involved in brain volume homeostasis and in the pathogenesis of brain edema. The cDNA encoding aquaporin-4 (AQP4) water channel protein was recently isolated from rat brain. We used immunocytochemistry and high-resolution immunogold electron microscopy to identify the cells and membrane domains that mediate water flux through AQP4. The AQP4 protein is abundant in glial cells bordering the subarachnoidal space, ventricles, and blood vessels. AQP4 is also abundant in osmosensory areas, including the supraoptic nucleus and subfornical organ. Immunogold analysis demonstrated that AQP4 is restricted to glial membranes and to subpopulations of ependymal cells. AQP4 is particularly strongly expressed in glial membranes that are in direct contact with capillaries and pia. The highly polarized AQP4 expression indicates that these cells are equipped with specific membrane domains that are specialized for water transport, thereby mediating the flow of water between glial cells and the cavities filled with CSF and the intravascular space.