WNK1 regulates skeletal muscle cell hypertrophy by modulating the nuclear localization and transcriptional activity of FOXO4

Sci Rep. 2018 Jun 14;8(1):9101. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-27414-0.


With-no-lysine (K) (WNK) kinases, which are mutated in the inherited form of hypertension pseudohypoaldosteronism type II, are essential regulators of membrane ion transporters. Here, we report that WNK1 positively regulates skeletal muscle cell hypertrophy via mediating the function of the pro-longevity transcription factor forkhead box protein O4 (FOXO4) independent of the conventional WNK signaling pathway linking SPS/STE20-related proline-alanine-rich kinase (SPAK)/oxidative stress response kinase 1 (OSR1) to downstream effector ion transporters. Small interfering RNA (siRNA)-mediated silencing of WNK1, but not SPAK/OSR1 kinases, induced myotube atrophy and remarkable increases in the mRNA expression of the muscle atrophy ubiquitin ligases MAFbx and MuRF1 in C2C12 mouse skeletal muscle cells. WNK1 silencing also increased FOXO4 nuclear localization, and co-transfection of Foxo4-targeted siRNA completely reversed the myotube atrophy and upregulation of atrogene transcription induced by WNK1 silencing. We further illustrated that WNK1 protein abundance in skeletal muscle was increased by chronic voluntary wheel running exercise (hypertrophic stimulus) and markedly decreased by adenine-induced chronic kidney disease (atrophic stimulus) in mice. These findings suggest that WNK1 is involved in the physiological regulation of mammalian skeletal muscle hypertrophy and atrophy via interactions with FOXO4. The WNK1-FOXO4 axis may be a potential therapeutic target in human diseases causing sarcopenia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Cycle Proteins
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Nucleus / genetics
  • Cell Nucleus / metabolism*
  • Cell Nucleus / pathology
  • Forkhead Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Forkhead Transcription Factors / metabolism*
  • Hypertrophy
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Muscle Fibers, Skeletal / metabolism*
  • Muscle Fibers, Skeletal / pathology
  • Muscle Proteins / genetics
  • Muscle Proteins / metabolism*
  • Physical Conditioning, Animal
  • Rats
  • Sarcopenia / genetics
  • Sarcopenia / metabolism
  • Sarcopenia / pathology
  • Signal Transduction*
  • WNK Lysine-Deficient Protein Kinase 1 / genetics
  • WNK Lysine-Deficient Protein Kinase 1 / metabolism*


  • Cell Cycle Proteins
  • Forkhead Transcription Factors
  • FoxO4 protein, mouse
  • Muscle Proteins
  • WNK Lysine-Deficient Protein Kinase 1
  • Wnk1 protein, mouse