Regulation of sodium transport by ENaC in the kidney

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Purpose of review

The amiloride-sensitive epithelial sodium channel (ENaC) plays a major role in the regulation of sodium transport in the collecting duct and hence sodium balance. This review describes recent findings in the regulation of ENaC function by serine proteases in particular and other regulatory aspects.

Recent findings

Regulation of ENaC occurs at many levels (biophysical, transcriptional, post-translational modifications, assembly, membrane insertion, retrieval, recycling, degradation, etc.). Recent studies have recognized and delineated proteolytic cleavage, particularly of the α and γ subunits, as major mechanisms of activation. Release of peptide fragments from these two subunits appears to be an important aspect of activation. These proteolytic mechanisms of ENaC activation have also been demonstrated in vivo and strongly suggested in clinical circumstances, particularly the nephrotic syndrome. In the nephrotic syndrome, filtered plasminogen may be cleaved by tubular urokinase to yield plasmin which can activate ENaC. In addition to these mechanisms, regulation by ubiquitination and deubiquitination represents a pivotal process. Several important deubiquitinating enzymes have been identified as important in ENaC retention in, or recycling to, the apical membrane. New aspects of the genomic control of ENaC transcription have also been found including histone methylation.


The mechanisms of regulation of ENaC are increasingly understood to be a complex interplay of many different levels and systems. Proteolytic cleavage of α and γ subunits plays a major role in ENaC activation. This may be particularly clinically relevant in nephrotic syndrome in which plasmin may activate ENaC activity.

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