Hepatic metabolism and gene expression are among other regulatory mechanisms controlled by the cellular hydration state, which changes rapidly in response to anisotonicity, concentrative substrate uptake, oxidative stress, and under the influence of hormones such as insulin and glucagon. Differential screening for cell volume sensitive transcripts in a human hepatoma cell line revealed a gene for a putative serine/threonine kinase, h-sgk, which has 98% sequence identity to a serum- and glucocorticoid regulated kinase, sgk, cloned from a rat mammary tumor cell line. h-sgk transcript levels were strongly altered during anisotonic and isotonic cell volume changes. Within 30 min h-sgk RNA was, independent of de novo protein synthesis, induced upon cell shrinkage and, due to a complete stop in h-sgk transcription, reduced upon cell swelling. Comparable changes of sgk transcript levels were observed in a renal epithelial cell line. h-sgk mRNA was detected in all human tissues tested, with the highest levels in pancreas, liver, and heart. The putative serine/threonine protein kinase h-sgk may provide a functional link between the cellular hydration state and metabolic control.