Water transport and homeostasis as a major function of erythrocytes
American Journal of Physiology. Heart and Circulatory Physiology
Sugie J, Intaglietta M, Sung LA. Water transport and homeostasis as a major function of erythrocytes. Erythrocytes have long been known to change volumes and shapes in response to different salt concentrations. Aquaporin-1 (AQP1) was discovered in their membranes more than 20 yr ago. The physiological roles of volume changes and AQP1 expression, however, have remained unclear. We propose that rapid water exchange through AQP1 coupled with large capacity for volume change may allow erythrocytes
... allow erythrocytes to play an important role in water regulation. In this study, we showed that erythrocytes in situ gradually reduced their volumes by 39% in response to the hyperosmotic corticomedullary gradient within mouse kidneys. AQP1 knockout (KO) erythrocytes, however, displayed only minimal reduction. Constructing a microfluidic device resembling capillary flow with an extracellular fluorescent reporter demonstrated that water exchanges between erythrocytes and their hypotonic or hypertonic surroundings in vitro reached steady state in~60 ms. AQP1 KO erythrocytes, however, did not show significant change. To simulate the water transport in circulation, we built basic units consisting of three compartments (i.e., erythrocyte, plasma, and interstitial fluid) using Kedem-Katchalsky equations for membrane transport, and connected multiple units to account for the blood flow. These simulations agreed with experimental results. Importantly, volume-changing erythrocytes in capillaries always "increase" the osmotic gradient between plasma and interstitial fluid, making them function as "micropumps" to speed up the regulation of local osmolarity. Trillions of these micropumps, mobile throughout the body, may further contribute to water homeostasis. These insights suggest that the enhanced exchange of water, in addition to O 2 and CO2, may well be the third major function of erythrocytes. NEW & NOTEWORTHY Physiological roles of erythrocyte volume change and aquaporin-1 were proposed and investigated here. We conclude that fast water transport by aquaporin-1 coupled with large volume-change capacity allows erythrocytes to enhance water exchange with local tissues. Furthermore, their huge number and mobility allow them to contribute to body water homeostasis.