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Kidney Int. 2011 Aug;80(3):256-62. doi: 10.1038/ki.2011.15. Epub 2011 Feb 16.

Chronic potassium depletion increases adrenal progesterone production that is necessary for efficient renal retention of potassium.

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UPMC Univ Paris 6/INSERM/CNRS, Laboratoire de Génomique, Physiologie et Physiopathologie Rénales, Centre de Recherche des Cordeliers, Paris, France.


Modern dietary habits are characterized by high-sodium and low-potassium intakes, each of which was correlated with a higher risk for hypertension. In this study, we examined whether long-term variations in the intake of sodium and potassium induce lasting changes in the plasma concentration of circulating steroids by developing a mathematical model of steroidogenesis in mice. One finding of this model was that mice increase their plasma progesterone levels specifically in response to potassium depletion. This prediction was confirmed by measurements in both male mice and men. Further investigation showed that progesterone regulates renal potassium handling both in males and females under potassium restriction, independent of its role in reproduction. The increase in progesterone production by male mice was time dependent and correlated with decreased urinary potassium content. The progesterone-dependent ability to efficiently retain potassium was because of an RU486 (a progesterone receptor antagonist)-sensitive stimulation of the colonic hydrogen, potassium-ATPase (known as the non-gastric or hydrogen, potassium-ATPase type 2) in the kidney. Thus, in males, a specific progesterone concentration profile induced by chronic potassium restriction regulates potassium balance.

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