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Modulating the water channel AQP4 alters miRNA expression, astrocyte connectivity and water diffusion in the rodent brain


Aquaporins (AQPs) facilitate water diffusion through the plasma membrane. Brain aquaporin-4 (AQP4) is present in astrocytes and has critical roles in normal and disease physiology. We previously showed that a 24.9% decrease in AQP4 expression after in vivo silencing resulted in a 45.8% decrease in tissue water mobility as interpreted from magnetic resonance imaging apparent diffusion coefficients (ADC). Similar to previous in vitro studies we show decreased expression of the gap junction protein connexin 43 (Cx43) in vivo after intracortical injection of siAQP4 in the rat. Moreover, siAQP4 induced a loss of dye-coupling between astrocytes in vitro, further demonstrating its effect on gap junctions. In contrast, silencing of Cx43 did not alter the level of AQP4 or water mobility (ADC) in the brain. We hypothesized that siAQP4 has off-target effects on Cx43 expression via modification of miRNA expression. The decreased expression of Cx43 in siAQP4-treated animals was associated with up-regulation of miR224, which is known to target AQP4 and Cx43 expression. This could be one potential molecular mechanism responsible for the effect of siAQP4 on Cx43 expression, and the resultant decrease in astrocyte connectivity and dramatic effects on ADC values and water mobility.

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