Septic acute kidney injury (AKI) is a severe form of renal dysfunction associated with high morbidity and mortality rates. However, the pathophysiological mechanisms underlying septic AKI remain incompletely understood. Herein, we investigated the signaling pathways involved in septic AKI using the mouse models of lipopolysaccharide (LPS) treatment and cecal ligation and puncture (CLP). In these models, renal inflammation and tubular cell apoptosis were accompanied by the aberrant activation of the mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR) and the signal transducer and activator of transcription 3 (STAT3) signaling pathways. Pharmacological inhibition of either mTOR or STAT3 significantly improved renal function and reduced apoptosis and inflammation. Interestingly, inhibition of STAT3 with pharmacological inhibitors or small interfering RNA blocked LPS-induced mTOR activation in renal tubular cells, indicating a role of STAT3 in mTOR activation. Moreover, knockdown of STAT3 reduced the expression of the phosphoinositide-3-kinase regulatory subunit 1 (PIK3R1/p85α), a key subunit of the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase for AKT and mTOR activation. Chromatin immunoprecipitation assay also proved the binding of STAT3 to PIK3R1 gene promoter in LPS-treated kidney tubular cells. In addition, knockdown of PIK3R1 suppressed mTOR activation during LPS treatment. These findings highlight the dysregulation of mTOR and STAT3 pathways as critical mechanisms underlying the inflammatory and apoptotic phenotypes observed in renal tubular cells during septic AKI, suggesting the STAT3/ PIK3R1/mTOR pathway as a therapeutic target of septic AKI.

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