1. Prior adaptation to a high potassium (HK) diet reduces the increment in plasma potassium after nephrectomy and acute potassium loading. Previous work has suggested that this ‘extrarenal potassium adaptation’ is due to direct stimulation of cellular potassium uptake by chronic hyperaldosteronism.
2. In contrast, we have shown that when dietary potassium is withdrawn from HK rats, large urinary potassium losses persist, resulting in ‘paradoxical potassium depletion’. This potassium depletion facilitates cellular potassium uptake and is, at least in part, responsible for extrarenal potassium adaptation.
3. To try to reconcile these observations, we explored further the role of aldosterone in extrarenal potassium adaptation. When dietary potassium was withdrawn from chronically adrenalectomized HK rats, paradoxical potassium depletion was markedly blunted and extrarenal potassium adaptation could not be demonstrated. Similarly, urinary potassium losses and potassium depletion were reduced when acute adrenalectomy was performed concomitantly with dietary potassium withdrawal.
4. We were unable to confirm previous studies showing extrarenal potassium adaptation in the absence of potassium depletion. Thus, extrarenal potassium adaptation did not occur after pretreatment with chronic high-dose mineralocorticoid, after prior adaptation to a sodium-free diet, or after prior adaptation to an extremely HK diet in the absence of dietary potassium withdrawal.
5. We conclude that chronic hyperaldosteronism is important in extrarenal potassium adaptation, but probably not via direct enhancement of cellular potassium uptake. Rather, in HK animals, hyperaldosteronism magnifies urinary potassium losses during fasting and thus promotes potassium depletion, which in turn facilitates the uptake of an acute potassium load.