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Bioessays. 2004 Aug;26(8):844-56.

Polycystins and mechanosensation in renal and nodal cilia.

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Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA.


The external surfaces of the human body, as well as its internal organs, constantly experience different kinds of mechanical stimulations. For example, tubular epithelial cells of the kidney are continuously exposed to a variety of mechanical forces, such as fluid flow shear stress within the lumen of th nephron. The majority of epithelial cells along the nephron, except intercalated cells, possess a primary cilium, an organelle projecting from the cell's apical surface into the luminal space. Despite its discovery over 100 years ago, the primary cilium's function continued to elude researchers for many decades. However, recent studies indicate that renal cilia have a sensory function. Studies on polycystic kidney disease (PKD) have identified many of the molecular players, which should help solve the mystery of how the renal cilium senses fluid flow. In this review, we will summarize the recent breakthroughs in PKD research and discuss the role(s) of the polycystin signaling complex in mediating mechanosensory function by the primary cilium of renal epithelium as well as of the embryonic node.

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