A role for mitochondrial aquaporins in cellular life-and-death decisions?

Am J Physiol Cell Physiol. 2006 Aug;291(2):C195-202. doi: 10.1152/ajpcell.00641.2005. Epub 2006 Apr 19.


Mitochondria dominate the process of life-and-death decisions of the cell. Continuous generation of ATP is essential for cell sustenance, but, on the other hand, mitochondria play a central role in the orchestra of events that lead to apoptotic cell death. Changes of mitochondrial volume contribute to the modulation of physiological mitochondrial function, and several ion permeability pathways located in the inner mitochondrial membrane have been implicated in the mediation of physiological swelling-contraction reactions, such as the K+ cycle. However, the channels and transporters involved in these processes have not yet been identified. Osmotic swelling is also one of the fundamental characteristics exhibited by mitochondria in pathological situations, which activates downstream cascades, culminating in apoptosis. The permeability transition pore has long been postulated to be the primary mediator for water movement in mitochondrial swelling during cell death, but its molecular identity remains obscure. Inevitably, accumulating evidence shows that mitochondrial swelling induced by apoptotic stimuli can also occur independently of permeability transition pore activation. Recently, a novel mechanism for osmotic swelling of mitochondria has been described. Aquaporin-8 and -9 channels have been identified in the inner mitochondrial membrane of various tissues, including the kidney, liver, and brain, where they may mediate water transport associated with physiological volume changes, contribute to the transport of metabolic substrates, and/or participate in osmotic swelling induced by apoptotic stimuli. Hence, the recent discovery that aquaporins are expressed in mitochondria opens up new areas of investigation in health and disease.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Triphosphate / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / physiology
  • Aquaporins / metabolism*
  • Cell Physiological Phenomena*
  • Cell Survival / physiology
  • Humans
  • Mitochondria / physiology*
  • Mitochondria / ultrastructure*
  • Water / metabolism*
  • Water-Electrolyte Balance / physiology*


  • Aquaporins
  • Water
  • Adenosine Triphosphate