BMS346 - Epithelial Cell Physiology in Health and Disease (10 credits)

Module Co-ordinator: Dr. L. Robson


To provide an understanding of the different strategies used by epithelia to effect transport of ions, water and nutrients. To explore the basis of pathophysiological states associated with failure of epithelial transport mechanisms.


The module will begin by considering the functional anatomy of transporting epithelia and by considering in general terms the driving forces and mechanisms responsible for water and solute transport. An overview of how to analyse experimental data typically obtained in epithelial research will also be covered. The majority of the module will focus on a detailed investigation of the molecular basis of epithelial ion secretion and absorption.

The role of Na+, Cl-, K+ and Ca2+ channel proteins in normal epithelial physiology, and in diseases such as Liddle's syndrome and cystic fibrosis will be examined. Particular emphasis will be placed throughout these lectures on the role these ion channels play in respiratory epithelial cells, although other epithelia such as the gastrointestinal system will also be discussed.

In addition, the controversial problem of water transport will be examined. This will include the importance of transepithelial transport routes and specific membrane transport proteins such as aquaporins and proposed water co-transporters and the role these proteins play in the movement of gases across cell membranes. The emphasis throughout will be to appreciate how experimental research informs our understanding of these issues, reflecting the University mission statement to lead teaching by current research.


By the end of the module the student should be able to:

  • Compare and contrast tight and leaky epithelia, giving examples.
  • Discuss how different ion channels play an important role in epithelial cell physiology, providing evidence for transport models.
  • Discuss the molecular basis of diseases associated with epithelial function, highlighting the evidence that supports this molecular basis.
  • Describe the mechanisms underlying the epithelial pathophysiology of influenza, PHA and cystic fibrosis, providing evidence for transport models.
  • Discuss the evidence that small molecules have therapeutic potential in the treatment of CF.
  • Discuss the potential role of ENaC mutations in atypical CF.
  • Describe the importance of Beta subunits in epithelial function, providing evidence for such a role.
  • Outline possible strategies used by epithelia to transport water.
  • Discuss the possible modes for water transport, including routes across epithelia and the involvement of putative water transport molecules.
  • Discuss mechanisms of gas transport across cell membranes, providing evidence for a role of water transport proteins.
  • Discuss the mechanisms underlying the transport of HCO-3 across epithelial cells.
  • Integrate information from lectures and library sources.
  • Complete a data interpretation or data handling exercise.

Teaching Methods

Material is presented mainly as formal lectures, with an opportunity to ask questions at the end. There will be directed exercises delivered via the WEB including literature criticism and self-assessment questions to gauge understanding and achievement of the objectives.  There is also a data handling workbook to be completed.


The formal assessment for this module is a 1-hour exam, which consists of 1 essay, with a choice of 1 from 2 (75% module grade).  There is also an open book data handling examination (25%).