Issue Date: September 14, 2009
Protein Boots Toxic Arsenic From Cells
Arsenic compounds percolating out of the ground into drinking water are a global health problem, poisoning people from Bangladesh to the U.S. Yet mammals, including humans and mice, have evolved one level of protection against arsenic in the form of a transport protein called aquaglyceroporin-9 (AQP-9) that can kick the poison out of liver cells, where it wreaks the most damage. To explore this defense mechanism, a group of researchers led by Jennifer M. Carbrey of Duke University, Peter Agre of Johns Hopkins University, and Rita Mukhopadhyay of Florida International University exposed genetically modified mice lacking AQP-9 to NaAsO2 (Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0908108106). They found that the mice couldn’t clear the arsenic well and that it accumulated in the liver, heart, and other organs at levels well above those of normal mice. Although the researchers advocate for clean drinking water as the best solution to the arsenic contamination problem, they suggest there may be a way to activate AQP-9 in humans to help reduce arsenic toxicity stemming from drinking water or from arsenic-based drugs.
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