INTRODUCTION - The mammalian SPS1-related proline/alanine-rich serine-threonine kinase SPAK (STK39) modulates ion transport across and between epithelial cells in response to environmental stimuli such osmotic stress and inflammation. Research over the last decade has established a central role for SPAK in the regulation of ion and water transport in the distal nephron, colonic crypts, and pancreatic ducts, and has implicated deregulated SPAK signaling in NaCl-sensitive hypertension, ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, and cystic fibrosis. Areas covered: We review recent advances in our understanding of the role of SPAK kinase in the regulation of epithelial transport. We highlight how SPAK signaling - including its upstream Cl sensitive activators, the WNK kinases, and its downstream ion transport targets, the cation- Cl cotransporters contribute to human disease. We discuss prospects for the pharmacotherapeutic targeting of SPAK kinase in specific human disorders that feature impaired epithelial homeostasis. Expert opinion: The development of novel drugs that antagonize the SPAK-WNK interaction, inhibit SPAK kinase activity, or disrupt SPAK kinase activation by interfering with its binding to MO25α/β could be useful adjuncts in essential hypertension, inflammatory colitis, and cystic fibrosis.