Acute kidney injury (AKI) is a common clinical condition of growing incidence. Patients who suffer severe AKI have a higher risk of developing interstitial fibrosis, chronic kidney disease, and end-stage renal disease later in life. Cellular senescence is a persistent cell cycle arrest and altered gene expression pattern evoked by multiple stressors. The number of senescent cells increases with age and even in small numbers these cells can induce chronic inflammation and fibrosis; indeed, in multiple organs including kidneys, the accumulation of such cells is a hallmark of aging. We hypothesized that cellular senescence might be induced in the kidney after injury and that this might contribute to progressive organ fibrosis. Testing this hypothesis, we found that tubular epithelial cells (TECs) in mice senesce within a few days of kidney injury and that this response is mediated by epithelial Toll-like and interleukin 1 receptors (TLR/IL-1R) of the innate immune system. Epithelial cell–specific inhibition of innate immune signaling in mice by knockout of myeloid differentiation 88 (Myd88) reduced fibrosis as well as damage to kidney tubules, and also prevented the accumulation of senescent TECs. Importantly, although inactivation of Myd88 after injury ameliorated fibrosis, it did not reduce damage to the tubules. Selectively induced apoptosis of senescent cells by two different approaches only partially reduced kidney fibrosis, without ameliorating damage to the tubules. Our data reveal a cell-autonomous role for epithelial innate immunity in controlling TEC senescence after kidney injury, and additionally suggest that early therapeutic intervention is required for effective reduction of long-term sequelae of AKI.
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