Inhibition of Autoregulated TGF-ß Signaling Simultaneously Enhances Proliferation and Differentiation of Kidney Epithelium and Promotes Repair Following Renal Ischemia

We studied autocrine transforming growth factor (TGF)beta signaling in kidney epithelium. Cultured proximal tubule cells showed regulated signaling that was high during log-phase growth, low during contact-inhibited differentiation, and rapidly increased during regeneration of wounded epithelium. Autoregulation of signaling correlated with TGFbeta receptor and Smad7 levels, but not with active TGFbeta, which was barely measurable in the growth medium. Confluent differentiated cells with low receptor and high Smad7 levels exhibited blunted responses to saturating concentrations of exogenously provided active TGFbeta, suggesting that TGFbeta signaling homeostasis was achieved by cell density-dependent modulation of signaling intermediates. Antagonism of Alk5 kinase, the TGFbeta type I receptor, dramatically accelerated the induction of differentiation in sparse, proliferating cultures and permitted better retention of differentiated features in regenerating cells of wounded, confluent cultures. Alk5 antagonism accelerated the differentiation of cells in proximal tubule primary cultures while simultaneously increasing their proliferation. Consequently, Alk5-inhibited primary cultures formed confluent, differentiated monolayers faster than untreated cultures. Furthermore, treatment with an Alk5 antagonist promoted kidney repair reflected by increased tubule differentiation and decreased tubulo-interstitial pathology during the recovery phase following ischemic injury in vivo. Our results show that autocrine TGFbeta signaling in proliferating proximal tubule cells exceeds the levels that are necessary for physiological regeneration. To that end, TGFbeta signaling is redundant and maladaptive during tubule repair by epithelial regeneration.

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