The WNK-regulated SPAK/OSR1 kinases directly phosphorylate and inhibit the K+-Cl- co-transporters

Paola De Los Heros, Dario R. Alessi (Lead / Corresponding author), Robert Gourlay, David G. Campbell, Maria Deak, Thomas J. Macartney, Kristopher T. Kahle, Jinwei Zhang (Lead / Corresponding author)

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Precise homoeostasis of the intracellular concentration of Cl- is achieved via the co-ordinated activities of the Cl- influx and efflux. We demonstrate that the WNK (WNK lysine-deficient protein kinase)-activated SPAK (SPS1-related proline/alanine-rich kinase)/OSR1 (oxidative stress-responsive kinase 1) known to directly phosphorylate and stimulate the N[K]CCs (Na+-K+ ion co-transporters), also promote inhibition of the KCCs (K+-Cl- co-transporters) by directly phosphorylating a recently described C-terminal threonine residue conserved in all KCC isoforms [Site-2 (Thr1048)]. First, we demonstrate that SPAK and OSR1, in the presence of the MO25 regulatory subunit, robustly phosphorylates all KCC isoforms at Site-2 in vitro. Secondly, STOCK1S-50699, a WNK pathway inhibitor, suppresses SPAK/OSR1 activation and KCC3A Site-2 phosphorylation with similar efficiency. Thirdly, in ES (embryonic stem) cells lacking SPAK/OSR1 activity, endogenous phosphorylation of KCC isoforms at Site-2 is abolished and these cells display elevated basal activity of 86Rb+ uptake that was not markedly stimulated further by hypotonic high K+ conditions, consistent with KCC3A activation. Fourthly, a tight correlation exists between SPAK/OSR1 activity and the magnitude of KCC3A Site-2 phosphorylation. Lastly, a Site-2 alanine KCC3A mutant preventing SPAK/OSR1 phosphorylation exhibits increased activity. We also observe that KCCs are directly phosphorylated by SPAK/OSR1, at a novel Site-3 (Thr5 in KCC1/KCC3 and Thr6 in KCC2/KCC4), and a previously recognized KCC3-specific residue, Site-4 (Ser96). These data demonstrate that the WNK-regulated SPAK/OSR1 kinases directly phosphorylate the N[K]CCs and KCCs, promoting their stimulation and inhibition respectively. Given these reciprocal actions with anticipated net effects of increasing Cl- influx, we propose that the targeting of WNK-SPAK/OSR1 with kinase inhibitors might be a novel potent strategy to enhance cellular Cl- extrusion, with potential implications for the therapeutic modulation of epithelial and neuronal ion transport in human disease states.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)559-573
Number of pages15
JournalBiochemical Journal
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 15 Mar 2014


  • Amino acid sequence
  • Cell line
  • Chlorides
  • Humans
  • Molecular sequence data
  • Phosphopeptides
  • Phosphorylation
  • Potassium
  • Protein isoforms
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Signal transduction
  • Sodium-Potassium-Chloride Symporters
  • Symporters
  • Transcription factors


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