WNK3, a kinase related to genes mutated in hereditary hypertension with hyperkalaemia, regulates the K+ channel ROMK1 (Kir1.1)

J Physiol. 2006 Mar 1;571(Pt 2):275-86. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2005.102202. Epub 2005 Dec 15.


The serine-threonine kinase WNK3 modulates Cl- transport into and out of cells through its regulation of SLC12A cation/Cl- cotransporters, implicating it as (one of) the long-sought Cl-/volume-sensitive kinase(s). Integrators in homeostatic systems regulate structurally diverse but functionally coupled elements. For example, the related kinase WNK4 regulates the Na-Cl co-transporter (NCC), paracellular Cl- flux, and the K+ channel ROMK1 (Kir1.1) to maintain renal NaCl and K+ homeostasis; mutations in PRKWNK4, encoding WNK4, cause a Mendelian disease featuring hypertension and hyperkalemia. It is known that WNK3 is expressed in the nephron's distal convoluted tubule (DCT) and stimulates NCC activity. Here, we show that WNK3 is also expressed in cortical and outer medullary collecting duct principal cells. Accordingly, we tested WNK3's effect on the mediators of NaCl and K+ handling in these nephron segments--the epithelial sodium channel (ENaC), paracellular Cl- flux, and ROMK1--using established model systems. WNK3 did not alter paracellular Cl- flux in tetracycline-responsive MDCK II cells, nor affect amiloride-sensitive currents when co-expressed with ENaC in Xenopus laevis oocytes. However, additional co-expression studies in oocytes revealed WNK3 inhibited the renal-specific K+ channel ROMK1 activity greater than 5.5-fold (p < .0001) by altering its plasmalemmal surface expression; WNK3 did not affect ROMK1's conductance or open/closed probability. In contrast, WNK3 had no effect on the activity of the cardiac long-QT syndrome K+ channel KCNQ1/KCNE1 when co-expressed in oocytes. Inhibition of ROMK1 is independent of WNK3's catalytic activity and is mediated by WNK3's carboxyl terminus--a mechanism distinct from its known kinase-dependent activation of NCC. A kinase-inactivating point mutation, or a missense mutation homologous to one in WNK4 that causes disease produced a gain-of-function effect, enhancing WNK3's inhibition of ROMK1 greater than 2.5-fold relative to wild type kinase (p < .0001). The magnitude and specificity of WNK3's effects at both NCC and ROMK1, its co-expression with its targets in the distal nephron, and the established in vivo effect of WNK4 at these same targets provide evidence that WNK3's action is physiologically relevant. WNK3 is likely a component of one of the mechanisms that determines the balance between renal NaCl reabsorption and K+ secretion.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Line
  • Dogs
  • Hyperkalemia / genetics*
  • Hypertension / genetics*
  • Kidney Cortex / metabolism
  • Kidney Medulla / metabolism
  • Kidney Tubules, Collecting / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Models, Biological
  • Mutation
  • Oocytes / metabolism
  • Potassium Channels, Inwardly Rectifying / metabolism*
  • Potassium Channels, Inwardly Rectifying / physiology
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases / genetics
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases / physiology*
  • Sodium Channels / metabolism
  • Sodium Chloride Symporters / metabolism
  • Xenopus laevis


  • Kcnj1 protein, mouse
  • Potassium Channels, Inwardly Rectifying
  • Sodium Channels
  • Sodium Chloride Symporters
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Wnk3 protein, mouse