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Am J Physiol Renal Physiol. 2000 Oct;279(4):F698-712.

A hydrodynamic mechanosensory hypothesis for brush border microvilli.

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CUNY Graduate School and Center for Biomedical Engineering, the City College of the City University of New York, New York 10031, USA.


In the proximal tubule of the kidney, Na(+) and HCO(3)(-) reabsorption vary proportionally with changes in axial flow rate. This feature is a critical component of glomerulotubular balance, but the basic mechanism by which the tubule epithelial cells sense axial flow remains unexplained. We propose that the microvilli, which constitute the brush border, are physically suitable to act as a mechanosensor of fluid flow. To examine this hypothesis quantitatively, we have developed an elastohydrodynamic model to predict the forces and torques along each microvillus and its resulting elastic bending deformation. This model indicates that: 1) the spacing of the microvilli is so dense that there is virtually no axial velocity within the brush border and that drag forces on the microvilli are at least 200 times greater than the shear force on the cell's apical membrane at the base of the microvilli; 2) of the total drag on a 2.5-microm microvillus, 74% appears within 0.2 microm from the tip; and 3) assuming that the structural strength of the microvillus derives from its axial actin filaments, then a luminal fluid flow of 30 nl/min produces a deflection of the microvillus tip which varies from about 1 to 5% of its 90-nm diameter, depending on the microvilli length. The microvilli thus appear as a set of stiff bristles, in a configuration in which changes in drag will produce maximal torque.

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