Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is characterized by pathological accumulation of extracellular matrix (ECM) proteins in renal structures. Tubulointerstitial fibrosis is observed in glomerular diseases as well as in the regeneration failure of acute kidney injury (AKI). Therefore, finding antifibrotic therapies comprises an intensive research field in Nephrology. Nowadays, ECM is not only considered as a cellular scaffold, but also exerts important cellular functions. In this review, we describe the cellular and molecular mechanisms involved in kidney fibrosis, paying particular attention to ECM components, profibrotic factors and cell–matrix interactions. In response to kidney damage, activation of glomerular and/or tubular cells may induce aberrant phenotypes characterized by overproduction of proinflammatory and profibrotic factors, and thus contribute to CKD progression. Among ECM components, matricellular proteins can regulate cell–ECM interactions, as well as cellular phenotype changes. Regarding kidney fibrosis, one of the most studied matricellular proteins is cellular communication network-2 (CCN2), also called connective tissue growth factor (CTGF), currently considered as a fibrotic marker and a potential therapeutic target. Integrins connect the ECM proteins to the actin cytoskeleton and several downstream signaling pathways that enable cells to respond to external stimuli in a coordinated manner and maintain optimal tissue stiffness. In kidney fibrosis, there is an increase in ECM deposition, lower ECM degradation and ECM proteins cross-linking, leading to an alteration in the tissue mechanical properties and their responses to injurious stimuli. A better understanding of these complex cellular and molecular events could help us to improve the antifibrotic therapies for CKD.

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