The small GTPase protein RhoA has two effectors, ROCK (Rho-associated protein kinase 1) and mDIA1 (protein diaphanous homolog 1), which cooperate reciprocally. However, temporal regulation of RhoA and its effectors in obesity-induced kidney damage remains unclear. Here, we investigated the role of RhoA activation in the proximal tubules at the early and late stages of obesity-induced kidney damage. In mice, a three-week high-fat–diet induced proximal tubule hypertrophy and damage without increased albuminuria, and RhoA/mDIA1 activation without ROCK activation. Conversely, a 12-week high-fat diet induced proximal tubule hypertrophy, proximal tubule damage, increased albuminuria, and RhoA/ROCK activation without mDIA1 elevation. Proximal tubule hypertrophy resulting from cell cycle arrest accompanied by downregulation of the multifunctional cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor p27Kip1 was elicited by RhoA activation. Mice overexpressing proximal tubule-specific and dominant-negative RHOA display amelioration of high-fat diet-induced kidney hypertrophy, cell cycle abnormalities, inflammation, and renal impairment. In human proximal tubule cells, mechanical stretch mimicking hypertrophy activated ROCK, which triggered inflammation. In human kidney samples from normal individuals with a body mass index of about 25, proximal tubule cell size correlated with body mass index, proximal tubule cell damages, and mDIA1 expression. Thus, RhoA activation in proximal tubules is critical for the initiation and progression of obesity-induced kidney damage. Hence, the switch in the downstream RhoA effector in proximal tubule represents a transition from normal to pathogenic kidney adaptation and to body weight gain, leading to obesity-induced kidney damage.
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