Hemodynamic abnormalities are important in the pathogenesis of the excess mesangial matrix deposition of diabetic and other glomerulopathies. p38-Mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase, an important intracellular signaling molecule, is activated in the glomeruli of diabetic rats. We studied, in human mesangial cells, the effect of stretch on p38 MAP kinase activation and the role of p38 MAP kinase in stretch-induced fibronectin and transforming growth factor-beta1 (TGF-beta1) accumulation. p38 MAP kinase was activated by stretch in a rapid (11-fold increase at 30 min, P < 0.001) and sustained manner (3-fold increase at 33 h, P < 0.001); this activation was mediated by protein kinase C (PKC). Stretch-induced fibronectin and TGF-beta1 protein levels were completely abolished (100% inhibition, P < 0.001; and 92% inhibition, P < 0.01, respectively) by SB203580, a specific p38 MAP kinase inhibitor. At 33 h, TGF-beta1 blockade did not affect stretch-induced fibronectin production, but partially prevented stretch-induced p38 MAP kinase activation (59% inhibition, P < 0.05). TGF-beta1 induced fibronectin accumulation after 72 h of exposure via a p38 MAP kinase-dependent mechanism (30% increase over control, P < 0.01). In human mesangial cells, stretch activates, via a PKC-dependent mechanism, p38 MAP kinase, which independently induces TGF-beta1 and fibronectin. In turn, TGF-beta1 contributes to maintaining late p38 MAP kinase activation, which perpetuates fibronectin accumulation.

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