Original Paper

Histochemistry and Cell Biology

, Volume 137, Issue 3, pp 339-353

First online:

Epithelial sodium channels (ENaC) are uniformly distributed on motile cilia in the oviduct and the respiratory airways

  • Yehoshua EnukaAffiliated withDepartment of Molecular Biology, Ariel University Center
  • , Israel HanukogluAffiliated withDepartment of Molecular Biology, Ariel University Center Email author 
  • , Oded EdelheitAffiliated withDepartment of Molecular Biology, Ariel University Center
  • , Hananya VaknineAffiliated withDivision of Pathology, E. Wolfson Medical Center
  • , Aaron HanukogluAffiliated withDepartment of Pediatrics, Sackler Medical School, Tel-Aviv UniversityDivision of Pediatric Endocrinology, E. Wolfson Medical Center

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Epithelial sodium channels (ENaCs) are located on the apical surface of cells and funnel Na+ ions from the lumen into the cell. ENaC function also regulates extracellular fluid volume as water flows across membranes accompanying Na+ ions to maintain osmolarity. To examine the sites of expression and intracellular localization of ENaC, we generated polyclonal antibodies against the extracellular domain of human α-ENaC subunit that we expressed in E. coli. Three-dimensional (3D) confocal microscopy of immunofluorescence using these antibodies for the first time revealed that ENaCs are uniformly distributed on the ciliary surface in all epithelial cells with motile cilia lining the bronchus in human lung and female reproductive tract, all along the fimbrial end of the fallopian tube, the ampulla and rare cells in the uterine glands. Quantitative analysis indicated that cilia increase cell surface area >70-fold and the amount of ENaC on cilia is >1,000-fold higher than on non-ciliated cell surface. These findings indicate that ENaC functions as a regulator of the osmolarity of the periciliary fluid bathing the cilia. In contrast to ENaC, cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) that channels chloride ions from the cytoplasm to the lumen is located mainly on the apical side, but not on cilia. The cilial localization of ENaC requires reevaluation of the mechanisms of action of CFTR and other modulators of ENaC function. ENaC on motile cilia should be essential for diverse functions of motile cilia, such as germ cell transport, fertilization, implantation, clearance of respiratory airways and cell migration.


Extracellular fluid Immunohistochemistry Ion channels Lung Pseudohypoaldosteronism Tubulin Axoneme CFTR