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In the late 1980s, urea permeability measurements produced values that could not be explained by paracellular transport or lipid phase diffusion. The existence of urea transport proteins were thus proposed and less than a decade later, the first urea transporter was cloned. The family of urea transporters has two major subgroups, designated SLC14A1 (or UT-B) and Slc14A2 (or UT-A). UT-B and UT-A gene products are glycoproteins located in various extra-renal tissues however, a majority of the resulting isoforms are found in the kidney. The UT-B (Slc14A1) urea transporter was originally isolated from erythrocytes and two isoforms have been reported. In kidney, UT-B is located primarily in the descending vasa recta. The UT-A (Slc14A2) urea transporter yields six distinct isoforms, of which three are found chiefly in the kidney medulla. UT-A1 and UT-A3 are found in the inner medullary collecting duct (IMCD), while UT-A2 is located in the thin descending limb. These transporters are crucial to the kidney's ability to concentrate urine. The regulation of urea transporter activity in the IMCD involves acute modification through phosphorylation and subsequent movement to the plasma membrane. UT-A1 and UT-A3 accumulate in the plasma membrane in response to stimulation by vasopressin or hypertonicity. Long-term regulation of the urea transporters in the IMCD involves altering protein abundance in response to changes in hydration status, low protein diets, or adrenal steroids. Urea transporters have been studied using animal models of disease including diabetes mellitus, lithium intoxication, hypertension, and nephrotoxic drug responses. Exciting new genetically engineered mouse models are being developed to study these transporters.
Renal Division, Department of Medicine, and Department of Physiology, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, GA, 30322, USA.
This article was published in the following journal.
Name: Pflugers Archiv : European journal of physiology
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