Aquaporin 4 as a NH3 Channel

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  • Mette Assentoft
  • Shreyas Kaptan
  • Hans-Peter Schneider
  • Joachim W Deitmer
  • Bert L de Groot
  • MacAulay, Nanna

Ammonia is a biologically potent molecule, and the regulation of ammonia levels in the mammalian body is, therefore, strictly controlled. The molecular paths of ammonia permeation across plasma membranes remain ill-defined, but the structural similarity of water and NH3 has pointed to the aquaporins as putative NH3-permeable pores. Accordingly, a range of aquaporins from mammals, plants, fungi, and protozoans demonstrates ammonia permeability. Aquaporin 4 (AQP4) is highly expressed at perivascular glia end-feet in the mammalian brain and may, with this prominent localization at the blood-brain-interface, participate in the exchange of ammonia, which is required to sustain the glutamate-glutamine cycle. Here we observe that AQP4-expressing Xenopus oocytes display a reflection coefficient <1 for NH4Cl at pH 8.0, at which pH an increased amount of the ammonia occurs in the form of NH3 Taken together with an NH4Cl-mediated intracellular alkalization (or lesser acidification) of AQP4-expressing oocytes, these data suggest that NH3 is able to permeate the pore of AQP4. Exposure to NH4Cl increased the membrane currents to a similar extent in uninjected oocytes and in oocytes expressing AQP4, indicating that the ionic NH4 (+) did not permeate AQP4. Molecular dynamics simulations revealed partial pore permeation events of NH3 but not of NH4 (+) and a reduced energy barrier for NH3 permeation through AQP4 compared with that of a cholesterol-containing lipid bilayer, suggesting AQP4 as a favored transmembrane route for NH3 Our data propose that AQP4 belongs to the growing list of NH3-permeable water channels.

Original languageEnglish
JournalThe Journal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number36
Pages (from-to)19184-19195
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 2 Sep 2016

ID: 167847111