Research ArticlePhysiology

YAP-mediated mechanotransduction determines the podocyte’s response to damage

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Science Signaling  11 Apr 2017:
Vol. 10, Issue 474, eaaf8165
DOI: 10.1126/scisignal.aaf8165

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A target for preventing kidney damage

In the kidney glomerulus, the elaborate foot processes of podocytes form the filtration barrier through which water, salts, and waste products pass into the urine. Proteinuria, or the appearance of protein in the urine, results when these cells or their foot processes are damaged. Using a rat model of chemically induced acute nephrosis, Rinschen et al. found that the activation of the transcriptional coactivator YAP and the expression of YAP target genes preceded proteinuria. YAP activity can be stimulated by mechanical stress, and activation of YAP in cultured podocytes depended on the stiffness of the substrate, implying that fibrosis may affect how podocytes respond to damage. Experiments in rats suggested that inhibiting YAP activity may be beneficial for patients with certain types of kidney diseases.


Podocytes are terminally differentiated cells of the kidney filtration barrier. They are subjected to physiological filtration pressure and considerable mechanical strain, which can be further increased in various kidney diseases. When injury causes cytoskeletal reorganization and morphological alterations of these cells, the filtration barrier may become compromised and allow proteins to leak into the urine (a condition called proteinuria). Using time-resolved proteomics, we showed that podocyte injury stimulated the activity of the transcriptional coactivator YAP and the expression of YAP target genes in a rat model of glomerular disease before the development of proteinuria. Although the activities of YAP and its ortholog TAZ are activated by mechanical stress in most cell types, injury reduced YAP and TAZ activity in cultured human and mouse podocyte cell lines grown on stiff substrates. Culturing these cells on soft matrix or inhibiting stress fiber formation recapitulated the damage-induced YAP up-regulation observed in vivo, indicating a mechanotransduction-dependent mechanism of YAP activation in podocytes. YAP overexpression in cultured podocytes increased the abundance of extracellular matrix–related proteins that can contribute to fibrosis. YAP activity was increased in mouse models of diabetic nephropathy, and the YAP target CTGF was highly expressed in renal biopsies from glomerular disease patients. Although overexpression of human YAP in mice induced mild proteinuria, pharmacological inhibition of the interaction between YAP and its partner TEAD in rats ameliorated glomerular disease and reduced damage-induced mechanosignaling in the glomeruli. Thus, perturbation of YAP-dependent mechanosignaling is a potential therapeutic target for treating some glomerular diseases.

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