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      Renal Handling of NH 3/NH 4 +: Recent Concepts

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          To be appropriately excreted in urine, NH<sub>4</sub><sup>+</sup>, the major component of urinary acid excretion, must be synthesized by proximal tubular cells, secreted into the proximal tubular fluid, reabsorbed by the medullary thick ascending limb (MTAL) to be accumulated in the medullary interstitium, and finally secreted in medullary collecting ducts. Several targets have been identified to account at the gene expression level for the adaptation of renal NH<sub>4</sub><sup>+</sup> synthesis and transport in response to a chronic acid load. These targets are the key enzymes of ammoniagenesis (mitochondrial glutaminase and glutamate dehydrogenase) and gluconeogenesis (phosphoenolpyruvate carboxykinase) and the Na<sup>+</sup>/H<sup>+</sup>( NH<sub>4</sub><sup>+</sup>) exchanger NHE<sub>3</sub> in the proximal tubule, the apical Na<sup>+</sup>-K<sup>+</sup>(NH<sub>4</sub><sup>+</sup>)-2Cl<sup>–</sup> cotransporter of the MTAL, the basolateral Na<sup>+</sup>-K<sup>+</sup>(NH<sub>4</sub><sup>+</sup>)-2Cl<sup>–</sup> cotransporter, and likely the epithelial Rh B and C glycoproteins in the collecting ducts. An acid pH per se appears to be a major factor in the control of the expression of these genes during metabolic acidosis probably through activation of pH sensors. Glucocorticoids may also act in concert with an acid pH to coordinate the adaptation of various tubular cell types. The present review focuses on some new aspects of NH<sub>3</sub>/ NH<sub>4</sub><sup>+</sup> transport and of regulations of gene expression that have recently emerged.

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          Mechanism of ammonia transport by Amt/MEP/Rh: structure of AmtB at 1.35 A.

          The first structure of an ammonia channel from the Amt/MEP/Rh protein superfamily, determined to 1.35 angstrom resolution, shows it to be a channel that spans the membrane 11 times. Two structurally similar halves span the membrane with opposite polarity. Structures with and without ammonia or methyl ammonia show a vestibule that recruits NH4+/NH3, a binding site for NH4+, and a 20 angstrom-long hydrophobic channel that lowers the NH4+ pKa to below 6 and conducts NH3. Favorable interactions for NH3 are seen within the channel and use conserved histidines. Reconstitution of AmtB into vesicles shows that AmtB conducts uncharged NH3.
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            RhBG and RhCG, the putative ammonia transporters, are expressed in the same cells in the distal nephron.

            Two nonerythroid homologs of the blood group Rh proteins, RhCG and RhBG, which share homologies with specific ammonia transporters in primitive organisms and plants, could represent members of a new family of proteins involved in ammonia transport in the mammalian kidney. Consistent with this hypothesis, the expression of RhCG was recently reported at the apical pole of all connecting tubule (CNT) cells as well as in intercalated cells of collecting duct (CD). To assess the localization along the nephron of RhBG, polyclonal antibodies against the Rh type B glycoprotein were generated. In immunoblot experiments, a specific polypeptide of Mr approximately 50 kD was detected in rat kidney cortex and in outer and inner medulla membrane fractions. Immunocytochemical studies revealed RhBG expression in distal nephron segments within the cortical labyrinth, medullary rays, and outer and inner medulla. RhBG expression was restricted to the basolateral membrane of epithelial cells. The same localization was observed in rat and mouse kidney. RT-PCR analysis on microdissected rat nephron segments confirmed that RhBG mRNAs were chiefly expressed in CNT and cortical and outer medullary CD. Double immunostaining with RhCG demonstrated that RhBG and RhCG were coexpressed in the same cells, but with a basolateral and apical localization, respectively. In conclusion, RhBG and RhCG are present in a major site of ammonia secretion in the kidney, i.e., the CNT and CD, in agreement with their putative role in ammonium transport.
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              NH3 is involved in the NH4+ transport induced by the functional expression of the human Rh C glycoprotein.

              Renal ammonium (NH3 + NH4+) transport is a key process for body acid-base balance. It is well known that several ionic transport systems allow NH4+ transmembrane translocation without high specificity NH4+, but it is still debated whether NH3, and more generally, gas, may be transported by transmembrane proteins. The human Rh glycoproteins have been proposed to mediate ammonium transport. Transport of NH4+ and/or NH3 by the epithelial Rh C glycoprotein (RhCG) may be of physiological importance in renal ammonium excretion because RhCG is mainly expressed in the distal nephron. However, RhCG function is not yet established. In the present study, we search for ammonium transport by RhCG. RhCG function was investigated by electrophysiological approaches in RhCG-expressing Xenopus laevis oocytes. In the submillimolar concentration range, NH4Cl exposure induced inward currents (IAM) in voltage-clamped RhCG-expressing cells, but not in control cells. At physiological extracellular pH (pHo) = 7.5, the amplitude of IAM increased with NH4Cl concentration and membrane hyperpolarization. The amplitude of IAM was independent of external Na+ or K+ concentrations but was enhanced by alkaline pHo and decreased by acid pHo. The apparent affinity of RhCG for NH4+ was affected by NH3 concentration and by changing pHo, whereas the apparent affinity for NH3 was unchanged by pHo, consistent with direct NH3 involvement in RhCG function. The enhancement of methylammonium-induced current by NH3 further supported this conclusion. Exposure to 500 microm NH4Cl induced a biphasic intracellular pH change in RhCG-expressing oocytes, consistent with both NH3 and NH4+ enhanced influx. Our results support the hypothesis of a specific role for RhCG in NH3 and NH4+ transport.

                Author and article information

                Nephron Physiol
                Nephron Physiology
                S. Karger AG
                December 2005
                14 November 2005
                : 101
                : 4
                : p77-p81
                INSERM U.426, IFR 2, Faculté de Médecine Xavier Bichat, Paris Cedex, and Université Paris 7, Paris, France
                87575 Nephron Physiol 2005;101:p77–p81
                © 2005 S. Karger AG, Basel

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