Mutant Cullin 3 causes familial hyperkalemic hypertension via dominant effects

Mutations in the ubiquitin ligase scaffold protein Cullin 3 (CUL3) cause the disease familial hyperkalemic hypertension (FHHt). In the kidney, mutant CUL3 (CUL3-Δ9) increases abundance of With-No-Lysine [K] Kinase 4 (WNK4), with excessive activation of the downstream Sterile 20 (STE20)/SPS-1–related proline/alanine-rich kinase (SPAK) increasing phosphorylation of the Na+-Cl cotransporter (NCC). CUL3-Δ9 promotes its own degradation via autoubiquitination, leading to the hypothesis that Cul3 haploinsufficiency causes FHHt. To directly test this, we generated Cul3 heterozygous mice (CUL3-Het), and Cul3 heterozygotes also expressing CUL3-Δ9 (CUL3-Het/
Δ9), using an inducible renal epithelial–specific system. Endogenous CUL3 was reduced to 50% in both models, and consistent with autoubiquitination, CUL3-Δ9 protein was undetectable in CUL3-Het/Δ9 kidneys unless primary renal epithelia cells were cultured. Abundances of WNK4
and phosphorylated NCC did not differ between control and CUL3-Het mice, but they were elevated in CUL3-Het/Δ9 mice, which also displayed higher plasma [K+] and blood pressure. Abundance of phosphorylated Na+-K+-2Cl cotransporter (NKCC2) was also increased, which may contribute to the severity of CUL3-Δ9–mediated FHHt. WNK4 and SPAK localized to puncta in NCC-positive
segments but not in NKCC2-positive segments, suggesting differential effects of CUL3-Δ9. These results indicate that Cul3 haploinsufficiency does not cause FHHt, but dominant effects of CUL3-Δ9 are required.