First WNK4-Hypokalemia Animal Model Identified by Genome-Wide Association in Burmese Cats

Barbara Gandolfi, Timothy J. Gruffydd-Jones, Richard Malik, Alejandro Cortes, Boyd R. Jones, Chris R. Helps, Eva M. Prinzenberg, George Erhardt, Leslie A Lyons

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


Burmese is an old and popular cat breed, however, several health concerns, such as hypokalemia and a craniofacial defect, are prevalent, endangering the general health of the breed. Hypokalemia, a subnormal serum potassium ion concentration ([K+]), most often occurs as a secondary problem but can occur as a primary problem, such as hypokalaemic periodic paralysis in humans, and as feline hypokalaemic periodic polymyopathy primarily in Burmese. The most characteristic clinical sign of hypokalemia in Burmese is a skeletal muscle weakness that is frequently episodic in nature, either generalized, or sometimes localized to the cervical and thoracic limb girdle muscles. Burmese hypokalemia is suspected to be a single locus autosomal recessive trait. A genome wide case-control study using the illumina Infinium Feline 63K iSelect DNA array was performed using 35 cases and 25 controls from the Burmese breed that identified a locus on chromosome E1 associated with hypokalemia. Within approximately 1.2 Mb of the highest associated SNP, two candidate genes were identified, KCNH4 and WNK4. Direct sequencing of the genes revealed a nonsense mutation, producing a premature stop codon within WNK4 (c.2899C>T), leading to a truncated protein that lacks the C-terminal coiled-coil domain and the highly conserved Akt1/SGK phosphorylation site. All cases were homozygous for the mutation. Although the exact mechanism causing hypokalemia has not been determined, extrapolation from the homologous human and mouse genes suggests the mechanism may involve a potassium-losing nephropathy. A genetic test to screen for the genetic defect within the active breeding population has been developed, which should lead to eradication of the mutation and improved general health within the breed. Moreover, the identified mutation may help clarify the role of the protein in K+ regulation and the cat represents the first animal model for WNK4-associated hypokalemia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere53173
JournalPLoS One
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 28 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Medicine(all)


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