Roles of WNK4 and SPAK in K+-mediated dephosphorylation of the NaCl cotransporter

Anindit Mukherjee, Chao Ling Yang, James A. McCormick, Kevin Martz, Avika Sharma, David H. Ellison

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Phosphorylation of the thiazide-sensitive NaCl cotransporter (NCC) in the distal convoluted tubule (DCT) is altered rapidly in response to changes in extracellular K+ concentration ([K+]). High extracellular [K+] is believed to activate specific phosphatases to dephosphorylate NCC, thereby reducing its activity. This process is defective in the human disease familial hyperkalemic hypertension, in which extracellular [K+] fails to dephosphorylate NCC, suggesting an interplay between NCC-activating and NCC-inactivating switches. Here, we explored the role of STE20/SPS1-related proline-alanine-rich protein kinase (SPAK) and intracellular Cl_ concentration in the rapid effects of extracellular K+ on NCC phosphorylation. SPAK was found to be rapidly dephosphorylated in vitro in human embryonic kidney cells and ex vivo in kidney slices by high [K+]. Acute high-K+ challenge resulted in DCT1-specific SPAK dephosphorylation in vivo and dissolution of SPAK puncta. In line with the postulate of interplay between activating and inactivating switches, we found that the "on" switch, represented by with no lysine kinase 4 (WNK4)- SPAK, must be turned off for rapid NCC dephosphorylation by high [K+]. Longer-term WNK-SPAK-mediated stimulation, however, altered the sensitivity of the system, as it attenuated rapid NCC dephosphorylation due to acute K+ loading. Although blockade of protein phosphatase (PP)1 increased NCC phosphorylation at baseline, neither PP1 nor PP3, singly or in combination, was essential for NCC dephosphorylation. Overall, our data suggest that NCC phosphorylation is regulated by a dynamic equilibrium between activating kinases and inactivating phosphatases, with kinase inactivation playing a key role in the rapid NCC dephosphorylation by high extracellular K+.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)F719-F733
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Renal Physiology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2021


  • Hyperkalemia
  • Phosphatase
  • Potassium
  • Thiazide
  • Transport

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Urology


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