The molecular basis of water transport in the brain

Nat Rev Neurosci. 2003 Dec;4(12):991-1001. doi: 10.1038/nrn1252.


Brain function is inextricably coupled to water homeostasis. The fact that most of the volume between neurons is occupied by glial cells, leaving only a narrow extracellular space, represents an important challenge, as even small extracellular volume changes will affect ion concentrations and therefore neuronal excitability. Further, the ionic transmembrane shifts that are required to maintain ion homeostasis during neuronal activity must be accompanied by water. It follows that the mechanisms for water transport across plasma membranes must have a central part in brain physiology. These mechanisms are also likely to be of pathophysiological importance in brain oedema, which represents a net accumulation of water in brain tissue. Recent studies have shed light on the molecular basis for brain water transport and have identified a class of specialized water channels in the brain that might be crucial to the physiological and pathophysiological handling of water.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Aquaporins / chemistry
  • Aquaporins / metabolism
  • Biological Transport
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Brain / physiology
  • Brain Edema / metabolism
  • Molecular Structure
  • Water / metabolism*


  • Aquaporins
  • Water