Purpose of review: Studies of inherited conditions characterized by high or low blood pressure reveal the importance of a new signalling cascade, With no Lysine kinases (WNK) -> ste20/SPS1-related proline/alanine-rich kinase (SPAK)/oxidative stress-responsive kinase-1 (OSR1) -> Cation-Chloride Cotransporters (CCC), in regulating blood pressure and in the pathogenesis of essential hypertension. This review explores how these molecules interact to co-ordinate sodium homeostasis and how errors in these interactions may result in hypertension. Recent findings: Studies using transgenic animals and gene knockins have clarified the role of mutant WNK4 in hypertension, by revealing its main action to be increasing the expression and activity of sodium-chloride cotransporter (NCC) in the kidney. Functional studies show how phosphorylation of WNK1 regulates both its activity and ability to interact with SPAK/OSR1, and clearly place it upstream of SPAK/OSR1 in the cascade. The structural basis for the interactions between SPAK/OSR1 and targets has been identified. Summary: WNKs, activated by upstream kinases or autophosphorylation, bind and phosphorylate SPAK/OSR1, which in turn phosphorylate and activate NCCs and Na+-K+-Cl- cotransporters (NKCCs). This increases sodium retention in the kidney (NKCC2, NCC) and vascular resistance (NKCC1), but decreases renin release (NKCC1). Hypertension-associated mutant WNKs increase surface expression and activation of renal tubular NKCC2 and NCC. Whether this adequately explains the hypertension awaits studies of these mutants in other tissues.
- protein-serine-threonine kinases
- sodium-chloride symporters
- sodium-potassium-chloride symporters