Hypokalemia (low serum potassium level) is a common electrolyte imbalance that can cause a defect in urinary concentrating ability, i.e., nephrogenic diabetes insipidus (NDI), but the molecular mechanism is unknown. We employed proteomic analysis of inner medullary collecting ducts (IMCD) from rats fed with a potassium-free diet for 1 day. IMCD protein quantification was performed by mass spectrometry using a label-free methodology. A total of 131 proteins, including the water channel AQP2, exhibited significant changes in abundance, most of which were decreased. Bioinformatic analysis revealed that many of the down-regulated proteins were associated with the biological processes of generation of precursor metabolites and energy, actin cytoskeleton organization, and cell-cell adhesion. Targeted LC-MS/MS and immunoblotting studies further confirmed the down regulation of 18 selected proteins. Electron microscopy showed autophagosomes/autophagolysosomes in the IMCD cells of rats deprived of potassium for only 1 day. An increased number of autophagosomes was also confirmed by immunofluorescence, demonstrating co-localization of LC3 and Lamp1 with AQP2 and several other down-regulated proteins in IMCD cells. AQP2 was also detected in autophagosomes in IMCD cells of potassium-deprived rats by immunogold electron microscopy. Thus, enhanced autophagic degradation of proteins, most notably including AQP2, is an early event in hypokalemia-induced NDI.
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