Na+/K+-ATPase (also known as the Na+/K+ pump or sodium-potassium pump) is an enzyme (EC 126.96.36.199) located in the plasma membrane (specifically an electrogenic transmembrane ATPase). It is found in the plasma membrane of virtually every human cell and is common to all cellular life. It helps maintain cell potential and regulate cellular volume.
In order to maintain the cell potential, cells must keep a low concentration of sodium ions and high levels of potassium ions within the cell (intracellular). Outside cells (extracellular), there are high concentrations of sodium and low concentrations of potassium, so diffusion occurs through ion channels in the plasma membrane. In order to keep the appropriate concentrations, the sodium-potassium pump pumps sodium out and potassium in through active transport.
The mechanism is:
The pump, with bound ATP, binds 3 intracellular Na+ ions.
ATP is hydrolyzed, leading to phosphorylation of the pump at a highly conserved aspartate residue and subsequent release of ADP.
A conformational change in the pump exposes the Na+ ions to the outside. The phosphorylated form of the pump has a low affinity for sodium ions, so they are released.
The pump binds 2 extracellular K+ ions, leading to the dephosphorylation of the pump.
ATP binds, and the pump reorients to release potassium ions inside the cell so the pump is ready to go again.
As the plasma membrane is far less permeable to sodium than it is to potassium ions, an electric potential (negative intracellularly) is the eventual result.
The electrical and concentration gradient established by the sodium-potassium ATPase supports not only the cell resting potential but the action potentials of nerves and muscles. Export of sodium from the cell provides the driving force for several facilitated transporters, which import glucose, amino acids and other nutrients into the cell. Translocation of sodium from one side of an epithelium to the other side creates an osmotic gradient that drives the absorption of water.
Another important task of the Na+-K+ pump is to provide a Na+ gradient that is used by certain carrier processes. In the gut, for example, sodium is transported out of the resorbing cell on the blood side via the Na+-K+ pump, whereas, on the resorbing side, the Na+-Glucose symporter uses the created Na+ gradient as a source of energy to import both Na+ and Glucose, which is far more efficient than simple diffusion. Similar processes are located in the renal tubular system.