A computational analysis of the role of integrins and Rho-GTPases in the emergence and disruption of apical-basal polarization in renal epithelial cells

Maria J. Hagelaars, Milica Nikolic, Maud Vermeulen, Sylvia Dekker, Carlijn V.C. Bouten, Sandra Loerakker (Corresponding author)

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Apical-basal polarization in renal epithelial cells is crucial to renal function and an important trigger for tubule formation in kidney development. Loss of polarity can induce epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT), which can lead to kidney pathologies. Understanding the relative and combined roles of the involved proteins and their interactions that govern epithelial polarity may provide insights for controlling the process of polarization via chemical or mechanical manipulations in an in vitro or in vivo setting. Here, we developed a computational framework that integrates several known interactions between integrins, Rho-GTPases Rho, Rac and Cdc42, and polarity complexes Par and Scribble, to study their mutual roles in the emergence of polarization. The modeled protein interactions were shown to induce the emergence of polarized distributions of Rho-GTPases, which in turn led to the accumulation of apical and basal polarity complexes Par and Scribble at their respective poles, effectively recapitulating polarization. Our multiparametric sensitivity analysis suggested that polarization depends foremost on the mutual inhibition between Rac and Rho. Next, we used the computational framework to investigate the role of integrins and GTPases in the generation and disruption of polarization. We found that a minimum concentration of integrins is required to catalyze the process of polarization. Furthermore, loss of polarization was found to be only inducible via complete degradation of the Rho-GTPases Rho and Cdc42, suggesting that polarization is fairly stable once it is established. Comparison of our computational predictions against data from in vitro experiments in which we induced EMT in renal epithelial cells while quantifying the relative Rho-GTPase levels, displayed that EMT coincides with a large reduction in the Rho-GTPase Rho. Collectively, these results demonstrate the essential roles of integrins and Rho-GTPases in the establishment and disruption of apical-basal polarity and thereby provide handles for the in vitro or in vivo regulation of polarity.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1012140
Number of pages32
JournalPLoS Computational Biology
Issue number5 May
Publication statusPublished - 20 May 2024


  • Animals
  • Cell Polarity/physiology
  • Computational Biology
  • Computer Simulation
  • Epithelial Cells/metabolism
  • Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition/physiology
  • Humans
  • Integrins/metabolism
  • Kidney/metabolism
  • Models, Biological
  • rho GTP-Binding Proteins/metabolism


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