Dr. Humphreys' primary research interest has been in sodium metabolism and the pathophysiology of edema formation and salt-sensitive hypertension. He and his colleagues identified that rodent models of sodium retention like nephrotic syndrome, liver cirrhosis, and pregnancy are characterized by resistance to the natriuretic actions of atrial natriuretic peptide (ANP), and this in turn is caused by a heightened activity of Type V phosphodiesterase (PDE), which catabolizes cGMP formed normally in renal collecting duct cells when ANP interacts with its renal receptors. Inhibition of Type V PDE restores ANP responsiveness in these models. His group has also identified a novel hormonal system involved in normal sodium metabolism in rodents. It involves a peptide hormone gamma-melanocyte stimulating hormone (g-MSH) released from the pituitary ACTH precursor proopiomelanocortin. When animals are fed a high salt diet, g-MSH synthesis and secretion are up-regulated; it acts on the kidneys to increase sodium excretion, and on the brain to dampen down sympathetic excitation which occurs with high sodium intakes. When rodents have impaired ability to increase g-MSH secretion during ingestion of the high sodium diet, or lack the melanocortinr receptor with which it interacts, marked hypertension develops, and is accompanied by insulin resistance.
Dr. Humphreys has also done clinical research in these areas and has studied the occurrence of HIV-associated nephropathy in patients at San Francisco General Hospital. He participated in early studies measuring nitrogen balance in ESRD patients treated with hemodialysis, and was for a short time a site director for the Frequent Hemodialysis Network clinical trial.