An excessive production of extracellular matrix (ECM) proteins in glomerular mesangial cells is considered to be responsible for the development of mesangial expansion seen in diabetic nephropathy. Mechanical stretch due to glomerular hypertension has been proposed as one of the factors leading to an increase in the production of ECM proteins in mesangial cells, but the precise mechanism of stretch-induced overproduction of ECM proteins has not been elucidated. Herein, we provide the evidence that mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) may play a key role in the overproduction of fibronectin (FN) in mesangial cells exposed to mechanical stretch. MAPK, also termed extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) and c-Jun NH2-terminal kinase (JNK), was activated by mechanical stretch in time- and intensity-dependent manners. Stretch-induced activation of ERK was inhibited by herbimycin A, a tyrosine kinase inhibitor, but not by GF109203X or calphostin C, the inhibitors of protein kinase C. Mechanical stretch also enhanced DNA-binding activity of AP-1, and this enhancement was inhibited by PD98059, an inhibitor of MAPK or ERK kinase (MEK). Furthermore, mechanical stretch stimulated the expression of FN mRNA followed by a significant increase in its protein accumulation. PD98059 could prevent stretch-induced increase in the expression of FN mRNA and protein. These results indicate that the activation of ERK may mediate the overproduction of ECM proteins in mesangial cells exposed to mechanical stretch, an in vitro model for glomerular hypertension seen in diabetes.

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