All addicted to potassium: An immune sensor for potassium deficiency in our cells

In collaboration with the Singapore Technological University, IPBS scientists have shown that our body’s epithelial cells detect potassium deficits by activating an unexpected immune receptor, the NLRP1 inflammasome, already described for its involvement against certain infections such as those mediated by SARS-CoV2, responsible for COVID-19. This study highlights the crucial role of the NLRP1 inflammasome, not only against certain infections, but also as a radar for the proper functioning of our cells. This opens up new avenues of research into non-infectious diseases such as diabetes, obesity and certain cancers. The study was published on January 4, 2024 in the journal PNAS.

Our cells are the basic unit of our organism. As such, their proper functioning is very finely controlled by intracellular radars, which act as the police force in the interests of the entire organism. In this context, identifying the various problems that can arise in our cells, and the radars capable of identifying them, is a fundamental element in understanding our organism.

In this study, scientists identify an immune receptor, NLRP1, as a detector of potassium deficiency in our cells. In this context, the expulsion of intracellular potassium caused by the presence of microbial toxins leads to an inactivation of the production of cellular proteins, essential components for the proper functioning of our cells. This process leads to the establishment of a network of stress molecules detected by the NLRP1 protein. Activation of the NLRP1 protein leads to the creation of a complex called the inflammasome, which kills the potassium-deficient cell, thus enabling its elimination for the benefit of the organism.

Thus, the identification of this immune receptor in the detection of intracellular potassium deficiency contributes to our understanding of the link between immunity and the control of cell function.


Mechanistic basis for nigericin-induced NLRP1 inflammasome activation in human epithelial cells.
Pritisha Rozario*, Miriam Pinilla*, Leana Gorse, Anna Constance Vind, Kim S. Robinson, Toh Gee Ann, Muhammad Jasrie Firdaus, José Francisco Martínez, Lin Zhewang, Simon Bekker-Jensen, Etienne Meunier**, Franklin Zhong** PNAS 2023 doi: 10.1101/2023.06.23.546021

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All addicted to potassium: An immune sensor for potassium deficiency in our cells