Purpose of review: Regulation of potassium (K) excretion was examined in an experimental setting that reflects the dietary conditions for humans in Paleolithic times (high, episodic intake of K with organic anions; low intake of NaCl), because this is when major control mechanisms were likely to have developed.
Recent findings: The major control of K secretion in this setting is to regulate the number of luminal K channels in the cortical collecting duct. Following a KCl load, the K concentration in the medullary interstitial compartment rose; the likely source of this medullary K was its absorption by the H/K-ATPase in the inner medullary collecting duct. As a result of the higher medullary K concentration, the absorption of Na and Cl was inhibited in the loop of Henle, and this led to an increased distal delivery of a sufficient quantity of Na to raise K excretion markedly, while avoiding a large natriuresis. In addition, because K in the diet was accompanied by 'future' bicarbonate, a role for bicarbonate in the control of K secretion via 'selecting' whether aldosterone would be a NaCl-conserving or a kaliuretic hormone is discussed.
Summary: This way of examining the control of K excretion provides new insights into clinical disorders with an abnormal plasma K concentration secondary to altered K excretion, and also into the pathophysiology of calcium-containing kidney stones.