Mechanisms of cell volume regulation in hypo-osmolality

Am J Med. 2006 Jul;119(7 Suppl 1):S4-11. doi: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2006.05.002.


Cells respond to a condition of hypo-osmolality by rapid swelling followed by an adaptive response that tends to recover the normal cell volume despite the persistence of the hypo-osmotic condition. This is an active process accomplished by the extrusion of intracellular osmolytes, essentially K+, Cl-, and small organic molecules. This regulatory process operates through a chain of events that essentially consists of a sensor or sensing mechanism to detect changes in cell volume, a signaling cascade to amplify the sensing signal and orient it to activate pathways for osmolyte extrusion, and a memory of the original cell volume, which sets the timing for inactivation of the volume-regulatory process. This article presents a brief overview of recent progress in these different aspects of the volume-regulatory process, including (1) the mechanisms and/or candidate molecules serving the role of volume sensors, (2) the osmosignaling network and the interplay and hierarchy of the different elements in this chain, and (3) the nature and properties of the osmolyte extrusion pathways. Emphasis is placed on some of the main unsolved questions concerning different aspects of the volume-regulatory process. Recent findings regarding the effect of hypo-osmolality on synaptic function are briefly discussed in terms of the possible molecular basis for the neurologic symptoms induced by hyponatremia.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arachidonic Acid / metabolism
  • Cell Size*
  • Chloride Channels / metabolism*
  • Chlorides / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hyponatremia / metabolism*
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Osmolar Concentration
  • Phospholipases / metabolism
  • Potassium / metabolism
  • Potassium Channels / metabolism*
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction


  • Chloride Channels
  • Chlorides
  • Potassium Channels
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Arachidonic Acid
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases
  • Phospholipases
  • Potassium