Membrane channels provide routes for the rapid, passive movement of solutes across plasma and intracellular membranes. It is generally assumed that the major physiological role of membrane channels is to transport inorganic ions for processes such as transepithelial salt absorption and secretion, cell volume regulation, signal transduction, and control of membrane electrical properties. Increasing evidence indicates, however, that channels play an important role in organic solute transport in a wide variety of cell types and organisms. Some of the major physiological roles of organic solute channels include uptake of nutrients, excretion of metabolic waste products, volume-regulatory organic osmolyte transport, and control of mitochondrial metabolism. This article reviews the functions and characteristics of channels that participate in the transport and regulation of both charged and electroneutral organic solutes.
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