The kidney plays a central role in maintaining homeostasis of ions and water in the body. However, the diet of early humans (low sodium, high potassium) is the opposite of the modern diet (high sodium, low potassium). My laboratory is interested in how the kidney responds to the high sodium, low potassium diet in ways that are both adaptive and maladaptive.
Underlying the kidneys’ ability to regulate salt and water is the process of ion transport, the vectorial movement of ions across cell membranes. My laboratory uses the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster as a model organism to study ion transport processes relevant to human physiology. Drosophila have a short life cycle, sophisticated genetics, and in many cases single gene representation of mammalian multi-gene families, simplifying analysis of pathways of interest. One project in the lab is focused on WNK kinases, which are mutated in a human disorder characterized by high blood pressure and high potassium. We are studying how these kinases are directly regulated by ions and in turn regulate ion transporters and channels. A second project deals with how flies respond to high salt diet, with a focus on genes that increase or decrease the ability to cope with high salt. In a third project, we are investigating membrane trafficking pathways that we identified in a forward genetic screen for genes that interact with WNK. Our goal is to understand the regulatory and ion transport mechanisms underlying the response to varying diets and to translate these insights into improved understanding of ion transport processes in health and disease.