Human red cell AQP1 is the first functionally defined member of the aquaporin family of membrane water channels. Here we describe an atomic model of AQP1 at 3.8 Å resolution from electron crystallographic data. Multiple highly conserved amino-acid residues stabilize the novel fold of AQP1. The aqueous pathway is lined with conserved hydrophobic residues that permit rapid water transport, whereas the water selectivity is due to a constriction of the pore diameter to about 3 Å over a span of one residue. The atomic model provides a possible molecular explanation to a longstanding puzzle in physiology - how membranes can be freely permeable to water but impermeable to protons.
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