Copper inhibits the water and glycerol permeability of aquaporin-3

J Biol Chem. 2004 Dec 10;279(50):51939-43. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M407645200. Epub 2004 Sep 29.


Aquaporin-3 (AQP3) is an aquaglyceroporin expressed in erythrocytes and several other tissues. Erythrocytes are, together with kidney and liver, the main targets for copper toxicity. Here we report that both water and glycerol permeability of human AQP3 is inhibited by copper. Inhibition is fast, dose-dependent, and reversible. If copper is dissolved in carbonic acid-bicarbonate buffer, the natural buffer system in our body, doses in the range of those observed in Wilson disease and in copper poisoning caused significant inhibition. AQP7, another aquaglyceroporin, was insensitive to copper. Three extracellular amino acid residues, Trp128, Ser152, and His241, were identified as responsible for the effect of copper on AQP3. We have previously shown that Ser152 is involved in regulation of AQP3 by pH. The fact that Ser152 mediates regulation of AQP3 by copper may explain the phenomenon of exquisite sensitivity of human erythrocytes to copper at acidic pH. When AQP3 was co-expressed with another AQP, only glycerol but not water permeability was inhibited by copper. Our results provide a better understanding of processes that occur in severe copper metabolism defects such as Wilson disease and in copper poisoning.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids / chemistry
  • Aquaporin 3
  • Aquaporins / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Aquaporins / chemistry
  • Aquaporins / genetics
  • Aquaporins / metabolism*
  • Cell Line
  • Copper / metabolism
  • Copper / toxicity*
  • Glycerol / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Lead / toxicity
  • Models, Molecular
  • Nickel / toxicity
  • Permeability / drug effects
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / chemistry
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / genetics
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / metabolism
  • Transfection
  • Water / metabolism
  • Zinc / toxicity


  • AQP3 protein, human
  • AQP7 protein, human
  • Amino Acids
  • Aquaporins
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins
  • Water
  • Aquaporin 3
  • Lead
  • Copper
  • Nickel
  • Zinc
  • Glycerol