1. At birth, rapid removal of lung liquid from potential airspaces is required to establish pulmonary gas exchange. To investigate the role for water channels, aquaporins (AQP) and ion transporters in this process, the mRNA expression of AQP, Na+,K+-ATPase and the amiloride-sensitive Na+ channel (ENaC) were studied in the fetal and postnatal rat lung. 2. The mRNA expression of all transporters studied increased postnatally. 3. The following water channels were expressed in the lung, AQP1, 4 and 5. The most specific perinatal induction pattern was observed for AQP4. A sharp and transient increase of AQP4 mRNA occurred just after birth coinciding with the time course for clearance of lung liquid. This transient induction of AQP4 mRNA at birth was lung-tissue specific. Around birth there was a moderate increase in AQP1 mRNA, which was not transient. AQP5 increased continuously until adulthood. 4. Fetal lung AQP4 mRNA was induced by both β-adrenergic agonists and glucocorticoid hormone, which are factors that have been suggested to accelerate the clearance of lung liquid. 5. Immunocytochemistry revealed that AQP4 was located in the basolateral membranes of bronchial epithelia in newborn rats, consistent with the view that this is the major site for perinatal lung liquid absorption. 6. The Na+,K+-ATPase α1 subunit and ENaC α-subunit mRNA also increased around birth, suggesting that they co-operatively facilitate lung liquid clearance at birth. 7. These data indicate that removal of lung liquid at birth is associated with pronounced and well-synchronized changes in the expression of AQP and the ion transporters studied. The transient perinatal induction of AQP4, which could be prenatally induced by β-adrenergic agonists, and the localization of this water channel strongly suggest that it plays a critical role for removal of lung liquid at the time of birth.
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