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Select types of supporting cell in the inner ear express aquaporin-4 water channel protein


Ole Petter Ottersen, as above. E-mail:


Aquaporins (AQPs) confer a high water permeability on cell membranes and play important parts in secretory and absorptive epithelia in kidney and other organs. Here we investigate whether AQPs are expressed in the sensory epithelia of the inner ear, where a precise volume regulation is crucial. By use of specific antibodies it was found that the inner ear contains AQP1 and 4 while being devoid of detectable levels of AQP2, 3 or 5. Immunofluorescence and postembedding immunogold labelling revealed a strictly non-epithelial distribution of AQP1, confirming previous data. In contrast, AQP4 protein and mRNA (visualized by in situ hybridization) were concentrated in select types of supporting cell, including Hensen's cells and inner sulcus cells. Immunogold particles signalling AQP4 were confined to the basolateral plasma membrane of Hensen's cells and to the basal plasma membrane of Claudius cells and inner sulcus cells. AQP4 was also found in supporting cells of the vestibular end organs, but was absent from transitional epithelial cells and dark cells. Strong labelling for AQP4 and AQP4-mRNA was associated with the central part of the cochlear and vestibular nerves. Hair cells were consistently unlabelled. Our findings indicate that AQP4 may facilitate osmotically driven water fluxes in the sensory epithelia of the inner ear and thus contribute to the volume and ion homeostasis at these sites.