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Publication Detail
Potassium deficiency decreases the capacity for urea synthesis and markedly increases ammonia in rats.
BACKGROUND AND AIMS: Potassium deficiency decreases gene expression, protein synthesis, and growth. The urea cycle maintains body nitrogen homeostasis including removal of toxic ammonia. Hyperammonemia is an obligatory trait of liver failure, increasing the risk for hepatic encephalopathy, and hypokalemia is reported to increase ammonia. We aimed to clarify the effects of experimental hypokalemia on the in vivo capacity of the urea cycle, on the genes of the enzymes involved, and on ammonia concentrations. METHOD: Female Wistar rats were fed a potassium free diet for 13 days. Half of the rats were then potassium repleted. Both groups were compared to pair- and free-fed controls. The following were measured: in vivo capacity of urea-nitrogen synthesis (CUNS); gene expression (mRNA) of urea cycle enzymes; plasma potassium, sodium, and ammonia; intracellular potassium, sodium, and magnesium in liver, kidney, and muscle tissues, and liver sodium/potassium pumps. Liver histology was assessed. RESULTS: The diet induced hypokalemia of 1.9±0.4 mmol/L. Compared to pair-fed controls, the in vivo CUNS was reduced by 34% (p<0.01), gene expression of argininosuccinate synthetase 1 (ASS1) was decreased by 33% (p<0.05), and plasma ammonia concentrations were eightfold elevated (p<0.001). Kidney and muscle tissue potassium contents were markedly decreased, but unchanged in liver tissue. Protein expressions of liver sodium/potassium pumps were unchanged. Repletion of potassium reverted all the changes. CONCLUSION: Hypokalemia decreased the capacity for urea synthesis via gene effects. The intervention led to marked hyperammonemia, quantitatively explainable by the compromised urea cycle. Our findings motivate clinical studies of patients with liver disease.
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