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Keywords:

  • Cholestasis;
  • gallstones;
  • glycerol;
  • membrane transport;
  • obesity;
  • water channels

ABSTRACT

The biological importance of the aquaporin family of water channels was recently acknowledged by the 2003 Nobel Prize for Chemistry awarded to the discovering scientist Peter Agre. Among the pleiotropic roles exerted by aquaporins in nature in both health and disease, the review addresses the latest acquisitions about the expression and regulation, as well as physiology and pathophysiology of aquaporins in the hepatobiliary tract.

Of note, at least seven out of the thirteen mammalian aquaporins are expressed in the liver, bile ducts and gallbladder. Aquaporins are essential for bile water secretion and reabsorption, as well as for plasma glycerol uptake by the hepatocyte and its conversion to glucose during starvation. Novel data are emerging regarding the physio-pathological involvement of aquaporins in multiple diseases such as cholestases, liver cirrhosis, obesity and insulin resistance, fatty liver, gallstone formation and even microparasite invasion of intrahepatic bile ducts. This body of knowledge represents the mainstay of present and future research in a rapidly expanding field.