Erlanger-Gasser Lecture 2014

Peter Agre delivers 20th Erlanger-Gasser Lecture

The Department of Cell Biology and Physiology had the privilege of hosting Peter C. Agre for this year’s Erlanger-Gasser lecture delivered on November 17, 2014.

Dr. Agre is best known for his discovery of aquaporins, a family of water channel proteins that are found throughout nature. They selectively control the water content in cells by conducting water molecules in and out of cells while preventing the passage of other solutes. Dr. Agre credits his discovery of aquaporins to “the well-known scientific approach known as sheer blind luck” in noticing the abundance of a 28-kDa polypeptide that turned out to be this water transporter channel. He and his collaborators characterized the structure of this pore channel as an hourglass configuration with an extracellular vestibule and an internal vestibule separated by a narrow midsection that allows a column of aligned water molecules to move through in single profile. More than twelve mammalian AQP homologs and several hundred related proteins in other animals, plants and micro-organisms have been identified. In humans, AQP1 is required for generation of physiological fluids such as urine, cerebrospinal fluid, sweat, saliva, tears, and aqueous humor in the eye. Thus, AQP is involved in multiple pathologies, including fluid retention, cataracts, skin hydration, brain edema, and even malaria.

In 2003, Dr. Agre shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Roderick MacKinnon of Rockefeller University for his research on channels in cell membranes. This recognition has enabled him to promote science as “a tool for international diplomacy…advancing good will toward America in the international arena” through visits to Cuba, North Korea, Myanmar, Iran and India. In his concluding remarks, he reflected, “Science is the medium of our life’s work. Whether we are frustrated or joyful, we always know that each day in the lab brings an opportunity to make profound advancements in the understanding of nature that may improve the well-being of others.”

Peter Agre is professor of biological chemistry and medicine at Johns Hopkins University and director of the Malaria Research Institute.