Molecular biology of major components of chloride cells

Comp Biochem Physiol B Biochem Mol Biol. 2003 Dec;136(4):593-620. doi: 10.1016/s1096-4959(03)00287-2.


Current understanding of chloride cells (CCs) is briefly reviewed with emphasis on molecular aspects of their channels, transporters and regulators. Seawater-type and freshwater-type CCs have been identified based on their shape, location and response to different ionic conditions. Among the freshwater-type CCs, subpopulations are emerging that are implicated in the uptake of Na(+), Cl(-) and Ca(2+), respectively, and can be distinguished by their shape of apical crypt and affinity for lectins. The major function of the seawater CC is transcellular secretion of Cl(-), which is accomplished by four major channels and transporters: (1). CFTR Cl(-) channel, (2). Na(+),K(+)-ATPase, (3). Na(+)/K(+)/2Cl(-) cotransporter and (4). a K(+) channel. The first three components have been cloned and characterized, but concerning the K(+) channel that is essential for the continued generation of the driving force by Na(+),K(+)-ATPase, only one candidate is identified. Although controversial, freshwater CCs seem to perform the uptake of Na(+), Cl(-) and Ca(2+) in a manner analogous to but slightly different from that seen in the absorptive epithelia of mammalian kidney and intestine since freshwater CCs face larger concentration gradients than ordinary epithelial cells. The components involved in these processes are beginning to be cloned, but their CC localization remains to be established definitively. The most important yet controversial issue is the mechanism of Na(+) uptake. Two models have been postulated: (i). the original one involves amiloride-sensitive electroneutral Na(+)/H(+) exchanger (NHE) with the driving force generated by Na(+),K(+)-ATPase and carbonic anhydrase (CA) and (ii). the current model suggests that Na(+) uptake occurs through an amiloride-sensitive epithelial sodium channel (ENaC) electrogenically coupled to H(+)-ATPase. While fish ENaC remains to be identified by molecular cloning and database mining, fish NHE has been cloned and shown to be highly expressed on the apical membrane of CCs, reviving the original model. The CC is also involved in acid-base regulation. Analysis using Osorezan dace (Tribolodon hakonensis) living in a pH 3.5 lake demonstrated marked inductions of Na(+),K(+)-ATPase, CA-II, NHE3, Na(+)/HCO(3)(-) cotransporter-1 and aquaporin-3 in the CCs on acidification, leading to a working hypothesis for the mechanism of Na(+) retention and acid-base regulation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cells / metabolism*
  • Chlorides / metabolism*
  • Fishes / physiology*
  • Fresh Water
  • Gills / cytology*
  • Gills / physiology*
  • Ion Channels / metabolism
  • Water-Electrolyte Balance


  • Chlorides
  • Ion Channels