Na+/H+ Exchangers Are Required for the Development and Function of Vertebrate Mucociliary Epithelia

Cells Tissues Organs. 2018;205(5-6):279-292. doi: 10.1159/000492973. Epub 2018 Oct 9.


Na+/H+ exchangers (NHEs) represent a highly conserved family of ion transporters that regulate pH homeostasis. NHEs as well as other proton transporters were previously linked to the regulation of the Wnt signaling pathway, cell polarity signaling, and mucociliary function. Furthermore, mutations in the gene SLC9A3 (encoding NHE3) were detected as additional risk factors for airway infections in cystic fibrosis patients. Here, we used the Xenopus embryonic mucociliary epidermis as well as human airway epithelial cells (HAECs) as models to investigate the functional roles of NHEs in mucociliary development and regeneration. In Xenopus embryos, NHEs 1-3 were expressed during epidermal development, and loss of NHE function impaired mucociliary clearance in tadpoles. Clearance defects were caused by reduced cilia formation, disrupted alignment of basal bodies in multiciliated cells (MCCs), and dysregulated mucociliary gene expression. These data also suggested that NHEs may contribute to the activation of Wnt signaling in mucociliary epithelia. In HAECs, pharmacological inhibition of NHE function also caused defective ciliation and regeneration in airway MCCs. Collectively, our data revealed a requirement for NHEs in vertebrate mucociliary epithelia and linked NHE activity to cilia formation and function in differentiating MCCs. Our results provide an entry point for the understanding of the contribution of NHEs to signaling, development, and pathogenesis in the human respiratory tract.

Keywords: Airway; Cilia; Na+/H+ exchangers; Slc9a1; Slc9a2; Slc9a3; Xenopus.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Epithelium / embryology*
  • Epithelium / metabolism*
  • Epithelium / ultrastructure
  • Humans
  • Sodium-Hydrogen Exchanger 3 / metabolism
  • Sodium-Hydrogen Exchangers / metabolism*
  • Wnt Signaling Pathway
  • Xenopus / embryology
  • Xenopus / metabolism


  • Sodium-Hydrogen Exchanger 3
  • Sodium-Hydrogen Exchangers