SPAK/STK39 is a mammalian protein kinase involved in the regulation of inorganic ion transport mechanisms known to modulate GABAergic neurotransmission in the both central and the peripheral nervous systems. We have previously shown that disruption of the gene encoding SPAK by homologous recombination in mouse embryonic stem cells results in viable mice that lack expression of the kinase. With the exception of reduced fertility, these mice do not exhibit an overt adverse phenotype. In the present study, we examine the neurological phenotype of these mice by subjecting them to an array of behavioral tests. We show that SPAK knockout mice displayed a higher nociceptive threshold than their wild-type counterparts on the hot plate and tail flick assays. SPAK knockout mice also exhibited a strong locomotor phenotype evidenced by significant deficits on the rotarod and decreased activity in open-field tests. In contrast, balance and proprioception was not affected. Finally, they demonstrated an increased anxiety-like phenotype, spending significantly longer periods of time in the dark area of the light/dark box and increased thigmotaxis in the open-field chamber. These results suggest that the kinase plays an important role in CNS function, consistent with SPAK regulating ion transport mechanisms directly involved in inhibitory neurotransmission.
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