The Na-K-Cl cotransporter (NKCC2) is the major salt transport pathway in the thick ascending limb of Henle's loop and is part of the molecular mechanism for blood pressure regulation. Recent screening of ∼3,000 members of the Framingham Heart Study identified nine rare independent mutations in the gene encoding NKCC2 (SLC12A1) associated with clinically reduced blood pressure and protection from hypertension (Ji WZ, Foo JN, O'Roak BJ, Zhao H, Larson MG, Simon DB, Newton-Cheh C, State M, Levy D, Lifton RP. Nat Genet 40: 592–599, 2008). To investigate their functional consequences, we introduced the nine mutations in human NKCC2A and examined protein function, expression, localization, regulation, and ion transport kinetics using heterologous expression in Xenopus laevis oocytes and HEK-293 cells. When expressed in oocytes, four of the mutants (T235M, R302W, L505V, and P569H) exhibited reduced transport function compared with wild-type. In HEK-293 cells, the same four mutants exhibited reduced function, and in addition N399S and P1083A had significantly lower activity than wild-type. The two most functionally impaired mutants (R302W and L505V) exhibited dramatically diminished production of complex-glycosylated protein and a decrease in or absence of plasma membrane localization, indicative of a processing defect. All of the functional human (h) NKCC2A variants were regulated by changes in oocyte volume and intracellular chloride in HEK cells, but P254A and N399S exhibited a lower constitutive activity in HEK cells. The P569H mutant exhibited a 50% reduction in sodium affinity compared with wild-type, predicting lower transport activity at lower intratubular salt concentrations, while the P254A mutant exhibited a 35% increase in rubidium affinity. We conclude that defects in NKCC2 processing, transport turnover rate, regulation, and ion affinity contribute to impaired transport function in six of the nine identified mutants, providing support for the predictive approach of Ji et al. to identify functionally important residues by sequence conservation. Such mutations in hNKCC2A are likely to reduce renal salt reabsorption, providing a mechanism for lower blood pressure
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