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The K:Cl cotransporter (KCC) activity is modulated by phosphorylation/dephosphorylation processes. In isotonic conditions, KCCs are inactive and phosphorylated, whereas hypotonicity promotes their dephosphorylation and activation. Two phosphorylation sites (Thr-991 and Thr-1048) in KCC3 have been found to be critical for its regulation. However, here we show that the double mutant KCC3-T991A/T1048A could be further activated by hypotonicity, suggesting that additional phosphorylation site(s) are involved. We observed that in vitro activated STE20/SPS1-related proline/alanine-rich kinase (SPAK) complexed to its regulatory MO25 subunit phosphorylated KCC3 at Ser-96 and that in Xenopus laevis oocytes Ser-96 of human KCC3 is phosphorylated in isotonic conditions and becomes dephosphorylated during incubation in hypotonicity, leading to a dramatic increase in KCC3 function. Additionally, WNK3, which inhibits the activity of KCC3, promoted phosphorylation of Ser-96 as well as Thr-991 and Thr-1048. These observations were corroborated in HEK293 cells stably transfected with WNK3. Mutation of Ser-96 alone (KCC3-S96A) had no effect on the activity of the cotransporter when compared with wild type KCC3. However, when compared with the double mutant KCC3-T991A/T1048A, the triple mutant KCC3-S96A/T991A/T1048A activity in isotonic conditions was significantly higher, and it was not further increased by hypotonicity or inhibited by WNK3. We conclude that serine residue 96 of human KCC3 is a third site that has to be dephosphorylated for full activation of the cotransporter during hypotonicity.
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