Calcineurin regulates aldosterone production via dephosphorylation of NFATC4
The mineralocorticoid aldosterone, secreted by the adrenal zona glomerulosa (ZG), is critical for life, maintaining ion homeostasis and blood pressure. Therapeutic inhibition of protein phosphatase 3 (Calcineurin (Cn)) results in inappropriately low plasma aldosterone levels despite concomitant hyperkalemia and hyperreninemia. We tested the hypothesis that Cn participates in the signal transduction pathway regulating aldosterone synthesis. Inhibition of Cn with tacrolimus abolished the potassium (K+)-stimulated expression of aldosterone synthase, encoded by CYP11B2, in the NCI-H295R human adrenocortical cell line as well as ex vivo in mouse and human adrenal tissue. ZG-specific deletion of the regulatory Cn subunit CnB1 diminished Cyp11b2 expression in vivo and disrupted K+-mediated aldosterone synthesis. Phosphoproteomic analysis identified Nuclear factor of activated T-cells, cytoplasmic 4 (NFATc4) as a target for Cn-mediated dephosphorylation. Deletion of NFATc4 impaired K+-dependent stimulation of CYP11B2 expression and aldosterone production while expression of a constitutively active form of NFATc4 increased expression of CYP11B2 in NCI-H295R cells. Chromatin immunoprecipitation revealed NFATc4 directly regulates CYP11B2 expression. Thus, calcineurin controls aldosterone production via the Cn-NFATc4 pathway. Inhibition of Cn-NFATc4 signaling may explain low plasma aldosterone levels and hyperkalemia in patients treated with tacrolimus and the Cn-NFATc4 pathway may provide novel molecular targets to treat primary aldosteronism.