Skip to content

Scientists discover brain chemical neuropeptide Y plays crucial role in the kidney

22 June 2020

Scientists at Bristol University have found a neurotransmitter, usually seen in the brain, could help control kidney function and ‘block’ the loss of protein that occurs in kidney disease. 

What is albuminuria? 

When kidneys are healthy, they are amazing filters that get rid of all the waste products in your blood to make urine. They also make sure that important proteins (such as albumin) do not escape.  

Albuminuria is the loss of albumin into the urine and is one of the earliest signs of kidney disease.  

It is also a risk factor that’s linked to kidney failure, heart disease and people dying before their time 

What are podocytes and why are they important in this research? 

Podocytes are cells in the kidney which are an essential part of the filter, using their tentacle-shaped extensions. Damage to these cells happens in the early stages of many kidney diseases, causing the kidney filtering unit to stop working and albuminuria to develop.  

With our funding, scientists at the University of Bristol have studied podocytes to find ways of preventing albuminuria, which could lead to the development of new therapies for kidney disease in the future. 

Lead author Dr Abigail Lay studied podocytes in the laboratory, to search for molecules that changed when these cells were damaged. She hoped to find some that might play a role in kidney disease.  

What they found 

After years of research, Dr Lay and the team discovered a new signalling pathway in the kidney which is important in controlling albuminuria 

They discovered that a molecule called Neuropeptide Y, normally found in the brain and spinal cord, is also in the kidney and that too much of it can cause kidney damage 

What does this mean for kidney patients?  

This discovery is exciting because it reveals that blocking the molecule could be a way to treat albuminuria and kidney damage.  

Targeting this molecule could also show promise for preventing kidney failure, heart and circulatory disease (such as strokes and heart attacks) 

Dr Richard Coward, who led the research said: “In the future we would like to investigate if blocking this pathway with medicines prevents albuminuria in our patients and helps stop the devastating consequences.  

“This innovative study shows how a very small molecule, which could have easily been overlooked in the kidney, might be crucial to our understanding of how kidney disease can develop” said Dr Aisling McMahon, Executive Director of Research, Innovation & Policy at Kidney Research UK. “We know that research into discovering the origins of kidney disease is vital to guide the search for more effective treatments in the future.” 


Find out more 

Dr Abigail Lay and Dr Richard Coward at the University of Bristol led the research for this paper,  which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America . 


Dr Abigail Lay
Dr Abigail Lay

Our research is only possible with your support.

Help keep research going

Scroll To Top