Physiological role of the alpha1- and alpha2-isoforms of the Na+-K+-ATPase and biological significance of their cardiac glycoside binding site

Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2006 Mar;290(3):R524-8. doi: 10.1152/ajpregu.00838.2005.


An interesting feature of Na+-K+-ATPase is that it contains four isoforms of the catalytic alpha-subunit, each with a tissue-specific distribution. Our laboratory has used gene targeting to define the functional role of the alpha1- and alpha2-isoforms. While knockout mice demonstrated the importance of the alpha1- and alpha2-isoforms for survival, the knockin mice, in which each isoform can be individually inhibited by ouabain and its function determined, demonstrated that both isoforms are regulators of cardiac muscle contractility. Another intriguing aspect of the Na+-K+-ATPase is that it contains a binding site for cardiac glycosides, such as digoxin. Conservation of this site suggests that it may have an in vivo role and that a natural ligand must exist to interact with this site. In fact, cardiac glycoside-like compounds have been observed in mammals. Our recent study demonstrates that the cardiac glycoside binding site of the Na+-K+-ATPase plays a role in the regulation of blood pressure and that it mediates both ouabain-induced and ACTH-induced hypertension in mice. Whereas chronic administration of ouabain or ACTH caused hypertension in wild-type mice, it had no effect on blood pressure in mice with a ouabain-resistant alpha2-isoform of Na+-K+-ATPase. Interestingly, animals with the ouabain-sensitive alpha1-isoform and a ouabain-resistant alpha2-isoform develop ACTH-induced hypertension to a greater extent than wild-type animals. Taken together, these results demonstrate that the cardiac glycoside binding of the Na+-K+-ATPase has a physiological role and suggests a function for a naturally occurring ligand that is stimulated by administration of ACTH.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Binding Sites
  • Blood Pressure / physiology*
  • Cardiac Glycosides / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Myocardial Contraction / physiology*
  • Ouabain / metabolism*
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Isoforms / metabolism
  • Sodium-Potassium-Exchanging ATPase / metabolism*


  • Cardiac Glycosides
  • Protein Isoforms
  • Ouabain
  • Sodium-Potassium-Exchanging ATPase