Sodium Potassium Pump: Structure, Mechanism, Function, and Clinical Significance

The Sodium Potassium Pump / Na+ K+ pump is an electrogenic transmembrane ATPase that was discovered in 1957. It is found on the cytosolic side of the cells’ outer plasma membrane.

  • For every ATP spent, the pump pumps 3 Na+ ions out of the cell and 2K+ ions in.
  • The plasma membrane is composed of cholesterol, phospholipids, glycolipids, sphingolipids, and proteins and is structured asymmetrically.
  • The Na+ K+-ATPase pump maintains osmotic balance and membrane potential in cells by establishing a gradient of a greater concentration of sodium extracellularly and a higher amount of potassium intracellularly.
  • The gradient is essential for physiological activities in many organs because it stabilizes the resting membrane potential of the cell, controls cell volume, and modulates cell signal transduction.
  • It also aids in the filtration of waste items in the kidneys, sperm motility, and the production of the neural action potential.
  • There are several pharmacologic uses for inhibiting the Na+-K+ ATPase.
  • Na, K-ATPase is a scaffolding protein that interacts with signaling proteins such as PKC and PI3K.

Structure of Sodium Potassium pump

The sodium-potassium pump, also known as Na+/K+-ATPase, is a large transmembrane protein present in most animal cells’ plasma membranes. The sodium-potassium pump’s structure is separated into many parts:

Structure of Sodium Potassium pump
Structure of Sodium Potassium pump
  1. Alpha subunit: This is the biggest subunit of the pump and includes the active sites for binding sodium, potassium, and ATP. It also houses the ion translocation route and the phosphorylation site.
  2. Beta subunit: This subunit is smaller and less well understood than the alpha subunit. It might help to stabilize the alpha subunit and regulate its activity.
  3. Ion translocation pathway: This channel goes through the middle of the protein and permits sodium and potassium ions to pass through the membrane. It is made up of a succession of transmembrane helices that span the breadth of the membrane.
  4. Phosphorylation site: This site is situated on the alpha subunit and is where ATP is hydrolyzed to give the energy required for the pump to move ions through the membrane. Throughout the transport cycle, a phosphate group also gets added to the pump in the phosphorylation site.
  5. Extracellular domain: This domain is positioned on the membrane’s outermost layer and comprises sodium and potassium binding sites.
  6. Cytoplasmic domain: This domain is positioned on the interior of the membrane & includes the ATP binding site as well as the phosphorylation site.

As a whole, the sodium-potassium pump structure is exceedingly complicated, allowing for fine modulation of ion transport across the cell membrane.

Mechanism of Sodium Potassium Pump

The pump works by using energy from ATP to transport sodium and potassium ions across the cell membrane. Here’s a simplified mechanism:

  1. The pump is made up of alpha and beta subunits, each of which has three sodium and two potassium binding sites.
  2. When ATP binds to the pump, a conformational shift occurs, allowing sodium binding sites on the extracellular side of the membrane to open.
  3. Three sodium ions from the extracellular fluid bind to the pump, causing the phosphate group in ATP to be released, providing the energy required for the pump to change shape and release the sodium ions on the intracellular side of the membrane.
  4. The release of sodium ions permits two potassium ions from the intracellular fluid to attach to the pump.
  5. The binding of the potassium ions produces another conformational shift in the pump, allowing it to release the potassium ions on the extracellular side of the membrane.
  6. The release of potassium ions restores the pump to its original configuration, ready to continue the cycle.
How does Na+-K+ ATPase work?
How does Na+-K+ ATPase work?

This process is essential for maintaining the proper concentrations of sodium and potassium ions on either side of the cell membrane, which is critical for many physiological processes, including nerve conduction and muscle contraction.

Functions of Sodium Potassium Pump

This pump has several critical functions in the body. Here are some of the main functions of the sodium-potassium pump:

  1. Cell volume maintenance: It works keep the right concentration of ions both within and outside the cell, that is necessary for controlling cell volume.
  2. Maintenance of resting membrane potential: It aids in the establishment and maintenance of neurons’ resting membrane potential, which is required for nerve impulse transmission.
  3. Nerve conduction and muscle contraction: It is critical in producing nerve impulses and contractions of muscles by developing and maintaining the appropriate sodium and potassium ion concentration gradient.
  4. Osmotic pressure regulation: It helps in the regulation of cellular osmotic pressure, which is critical for maintaining appropriate cell function and preventing harm from swelling or shrinking.
  5. Nutrition intake and waste removal: It is involved in nutrition uptake as well as waste removal from cells.
  6. Kidney function: The pump is required for optimal kidney function, particularly ion and water filtration and reabsorption.

Overall, the sodium-potassium pump is a critical component of cellular physiology and is necessary for the proper functioning of many organ systems in the body.


  • The Na+-K+ ATPase is important in thyroid-related disorders.
  • Hyperparathyroidism can cause symptoms such as heat intolerance, increased sweating, and weight loss.
  • These symptoms are caused by the excessive synthesis of Na+-K+ ATPase, which is triggered by high levels of thyroid hormone.
  • The increased Na+-K+ ATPase synthesis raises the basal metabolic rate, leading to higher oxygen consumption, respiratory rate, body temperature, and calorigenesis.

Clinical Significance

The sodium-potassium pump, also known as the Na+/K+-ATPase, plays a crucial role in various physiological and pathological conditions. Here are some of the clinical significances of the sodium-potassium pump:

  1. Regulation of blood pressure: It helps to regulate blood pressure by controlling the amount of sodium and potassium in the bloodstream. High levels of sodium can increase blood pressure, while high levels of potassium can lower blood pressure.
  2. Maintenance of membrane potential: It is essential for maintaining the resting membrane potential of cells. This is important for the proper functioning of cells and tissues, including nerve and muscle cells.
  3. Kidney function: The sodium-potassium pump plays a critical role in the functioning of the kidneys. It helps to regulate the concentration of sodium and potassium in the urine and is involved in the reabsorption of water and nutrients.
  4. Cardiac function: The sodium-potassium pump is essential for the proper functioning of the heart. It helps to maintain the balance of ions needed for the proper contraction and relaxation of the heart muscle.
  5. Diseases: Dysfunction of the Na-K pump has been linked to a range of diseases, including hypertension, heart failure, kidney disease, and neurological disorders.
  6. Pharmacology: The Na-K pump is the target of several drugs used to treat conditions such as hypertension and heart failure. Inhibitors of the sodium-potassium pump, such as digitalis, can increase cardiac contractility and are used to treat heart failure.

Binod G C

I'm Binod G C (MSc), a PhD candidate in cell and molecular biology who works as a biology educator and enjoys scientific blogging. My proclivity for blogging is intended to make notes and study materials more accessible to students.

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