Cell volume regulation: osmolytes, osmolyte transport, and signal transduction

Rev Physiol Biochem Pharmacol. 2003;148:1-80. doi: 10.1007/s10254-003-0009-x. Epub 2003 Apr 4.


In recent years, it has become evident that the volume of a given cell is an important factor not only in defining its intracellular osmolality and its shape, but also in defining other cellular functions, such as transepithelial transport, cell migration, cell growth, cell death, and the regulation of intracellular metabolism. In addition, besides inorganic osmolytes, the existence of organic osmolytes in cells has been discovered. Osmolyte transport systems-channels and carriers alike-have been identified and characterized at a molecular level and also, to a certain extent, the intracellular signals regulating osmolyte movements across the plasma membrane. The current review reflects these developments and focuses on the contributions of inorganic and organic osmolytes and their transport systems in regulatory volume increase (RVI) and regulatory volume decrease (RVD) in a variety of cells. Furthermore, the current knowledge on signal transduction in volume regulation is compiled, revealing an astonishing diversity in transport systems, as well as of regulatory signals. The information available indicates the existence of intricate spatial and temporal networks that control cell volume and that we are just beginning to be able to investigate and to understand.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Transport
  • Cell Size*
  • Electrolytes / chemistry*
  • Humans
  • Signal Transduction*


  • Electrolytes