Aquaporins in clinical medicine

Annu Rev Med. 2012;63:303-16. doi: 10.1146/annurev-med-043010-193843.


The aquaporins are a family of membrane water channels, some of which also transport glycerol. They are involved in a wide range of physiological functions (including water/salt homeostasis, exocrine fluid secretion, and epidermal hydration) and human diseases (including glaucoma, cancer, epilepsy, and obesity). At the cellular level, aquaporin-mediated osmotic water transport across cell plasma membranes facilitates transepithelial fluid transport, cell migration, and neuroexcitation; aquaporin-mediated glycerol transport regulates cell proliferation, adipocyte metabolism, and epidermal water retention. Genetic diseases caused by loss-of-function mutations in aquaporins include nephrogenic diabetes insipidus and congenital cataracts. The neuroinflammatory demyelinating disease neuromyelitis optica is marked by pathogenic autoantibodies against astrocyte water channel aquaporin-4. There remain broad opportunities for the development of aquaporin-based diagnostics and therapeutics. Disease-relevant aquaporin polymorphisms are beginning to be explored. There is great promise in the development of small-molecule aquaporin modulators for therapy of some types of refractory edema, brain swelling, neuroinflammation, glaucoma, epilepsy, cancer, pain, and obesity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aquaporins / genetics
  • Aquaporins / physiology*
  • Brain Edema / genetics
  • Brain Edema / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Neuromyelitis Optica / genetics
  • Neuromyelitis Optica / physiopathology*
  • Obesity / genetics
  • Obesity / physiopathology*
  • Water-Electrolyte Balance / physiology*


  • Aquaporins