Because so many foods contain abundant potassium, our bodies constantly store, deploy, and dispose of potassium to maintain healthy levels – a process known as maintaining potassium homeostasis. Understanding potassium homeostasis is essential in helping diagnose the source of the problem when something goes wrong – for example, when kidney disease or medication leads to dysregulation.
“Too much potassium in the body, or hyperkalemia, can be just as dangerous as hypokalemia, or too little,” said Melissa M. Stadt, a PhD student in applied mathematics and the lead author of the study. “Dysregulation of potassium can lead to dangerous and potentially fatal consequences.”
“A lot of our models are pieces of a bigger picture,” said Anita Layton, professor of applied mathematics and Canada 150 Research Chair in mathematical biology and medicine. “This model is one new and exciting piece in helping us understand how our incredibly complex internal systems work.”
The model is especially exciting because it allows scientists to test something called the muscle-kidney cross-talk signal hypothesis. Scientists have hypothesized that skeletal muscles, which are responsible for most of the potassium storage in the body, can directly signal to the kidneys that it’s time to excrete excess when too much potassium is stored, and vice versa. When the math researchers tested the hypothesis in their model, it more accurately reflected existing biological data regarding potassium homeostasis, suggesting that muscle-kidney cross talk might be an essential piece in the puzzle of potassium regulation.
The study was published in PLOS Computational Biology.
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