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1.  Tetracycline-Inducible Gene Expression in Conditionally Immortalized Mouse Podocytes 
American journal of nephrology  2008;29(3):153-163.
Conditionally immortalized podocytes are valuable research tools but are difficult to efficiently transfect and do not provide graded transgene expression.
Conditionally immortalized mouse podocyte cell lines were established employing a tetracycline-inducible system. Glomerular cells, isolated from transgenic mice bearing two transgenes, NPHS2-reverse tetracycline-controlled transactivator, rtTA (A transgene) and H2-Kb-thermosensitive SV40 T, ts58A (I transgene), were cloned. One clone (AI podocytes) expressing WT1 and synaptopodin was transfected with pBI-EGFP (enhanced green fluorescent protein, G transgene) and separately with ptTS-Neo (transcriptional suppressor, T transgene) to produce stable transformants, AIG podocytes and AIT podocytes.
AIG podocytes expressed EGFP at 33 and 37°C after doxycycline treatment, and retained podocin and rtTA mRNA expression and temperature-sensitive growth regulation. AIT podocytes, transiently transfected with luciferase-BI-EGFP (LG transgene), showed reduced background expression of EGFP and luciferase in the absence of doxycycline. In AITLG podocytes, generated by stable transfection of AIT podocytes with the LG transgene, luciferase expression was tightly regulated by doxycycline in a time- and concentration-dependent manner both at 33 and 37°C, although background expression was not entirely eliminated. These podocytes retained temperature-sensitive growth regulation and expression of podocyte differentiation markers.
Mouse podocytes expressed tetracycline-induced transgenes efficiently while retaining differentiation markers.
PMCID: PMC2698022  PMID: 18753740
Tetracycline-inducible system; Conditional immortalization; Transcription; Gene of interest
2.  Acute Podocyte Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor (VEGF-A) Knockdown Disrupts alphaVbeta3 Integrin Signaling in the Glomerulus 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(7):e40589.
Podocyte or endothelial cell VEGF-A knockout causes thrombotic microangiopathy in adult mice. To study the mechanism involved in acute and local injury caused by low podocyte VEGF-A we developed an inducible, podocyte-specific VEGF-A knockdown mouse, and we generated an immortalized podocyte cell line (VEGFKD) that downregulates VEGF-A upon doxycycline exposure. Tet-O-siVEGF:podocin-rtTA mice express VEGF shRNA in podocytes in a doxycycline-regulated manner, decreasing VEGF-A mRNA and VEGF-A protein levels in isolated glomeruli to ∼20% of non-induced controls and urine VEGF-A to ∼30% of control values a week after doxycycline induction. Induced tet-O-siVEGF:podocin-rtTA mice developed acute renal failure and proteinuria, associated with mesangiolysis and microaneurisms. Glomerular ultrastructure revealed endothelial cell swelling, GBM lamination and podocyte effacement. VEGF knockdown decreased podocyte fibronectin and glomerular endothelial alphaVbeta3 integrin in vivo. VEGF receptor-2 (VEGFR2) interacts with beta3 integrin and neuropilin-1 in the kidney in vivo and in VEGFKD podocytes. Podocyte VEGF knockdown disrupts alphaVbeta3 integrin activation in glomeruli, detected by WOW1-Fab. VEGF silencing in cultured VEGFKD podocytes downregulates fibronectin and disrupts alphaVbeta3 integrin activation cell-autonomously. Collectively, these studies indicate that podocyte VEGF-A regulates alphaVbeta3 integrin signaling in the glomerulus, and that podocyte VEGF knockdown disrupts alphaVbeta3 integrin activity via decreased VEGFR2 signaling, thereby damaging the three layers of the glomerular filtration barrier, causing proteinuria and acute renal failure.
PMCID: PMC3396653  PMID: 22808199
3.  Induction of Podocyte-Derived VEGF Ameliorates Podocyte Injury and Subsequent Abnormal Glomerular Development Caused by Puromycin Aminonucleoside 
Pediatric research  2011;70(1):83-89.
Our previous studies using puromycin aminonucleoside (PAN) established that podocyte damage leads to glomerular growth arrest during development and glomerulosclerosis later in life. The present study examined the potential benefit of maintaining podocyte-derived vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) in podocyte defense and survival following PAN injury using conditional transgenic podocytes and mice, in which human VEGF-A (hVEGF) transgene expression is controlled by tetracycline responsive element (TRE) promoter and reverse tetracycline transactivator (rtTA) in podocytes. In vitro experiments used primary cultured podocytes harvested from mice carrying podocin-rtTA and TRE-hVEGF transgenes, in which hVEGF can be induced selectively. Induction of VEGF in PAN-exposed podocytes resulted in preservation of intrinsic VEGF, α-actinin-4 and synaptopodin, anti-apoptotic marker Bcl-xL/Bax, as well as attenuation in apoptotic marker cleaved/total caspase-3. In vivo, compared with genotype controls, PAN-sensitive neonatal mice with physiologically relevant levels of podocyte-derived VEGF showed significantly larger glomeruli. Further, PAN-induced up-regulation of desmin, down-regulation of synaptopodin and nephrin, and disruption of glomerular morphology was significantly attenuated in VEGF-induced transgenic mice. Our data indicate that podocyte-derived VEGF provides self-preservation functions, which can rescue the cell following injury and preempt subsequent deterioration of the glomerulus in developing mice.
PMCID: PMC3113658  PMID: 21451433
4.  c-Abl mediates angiotensin II-induced apoptosis in podocytes 
Journal of molecular histology  2013;44(5):597-608.
Angiotensin II (Ang II) has been reported to cause podocyte apoptosis in rats both in vivo and in vitro studies. However, the underlying mechanisms are poorly understood. In the present study, we investigated the role of the nonreceptor tyrosine kinase c-Abl in Ang II-induced podocyte apoptosis.
Male Sprague-Dawley rats in groups of 12 were administered either Ang II (400 kg-1·kg-1·min-1) or Ang II + STI-571 (50 mg·kg-1·d-1) by osmotic minipumps. In addition, 12 rats-receiving normal saline served as the control. Glomeruli c-Abl expression was carried out by real time PCR, Western blotting and immunolabeled, and occurrence of apoptosis was carried out by TUNEL staining and transmission electron microscopic analysis. In vitro studies, conditionally immortalized mouse podocytes were treated with Ang II (10-9-10-6 M) in the presence or absence of either c-Abl inhibitor, Src-I1, specific c-Abl siRNA, or c-Abl plasmid alone. Quantification of podocyte c-Abl expression and c-Abl phosphorylation at Y245 and Y412 was carried out by real time PCR, Western blotting and immunofluorescence imaging. The nuclear c-Abl and p53 were quantified by co-immunoprecipitation and Western blotting studies. Podocyte apoptosis was analysed by flow cytometry and Hoechst-33342 staining.
c-Abl expression was demonstrated in rat kidney podocytes in vivo and cultured mouse podocytes in vitro. Ang II-receiving rats displayed enhanced podocyte c-Abl expression. And Ang II significantly stimulated c-Abl expression in cultured podocytes. Furthermore Ang II upregulated podocyte c-Abl phosphorylation at Y245 and Y412. Ang II also induced an increase of nuclear p53 protein and nuclear c-Abl-p53 complexes in podocytes and podocyte apoptosis. Down-regulation of c-Abl expression by c-Abl inhibitor (Src-I1) as well as specific siRNA inhibited Ang II-induced podocyte apoptosis; conversely, podoctyes transfected with c-Abl plasmid displayed enhanced apoptosis.
These findings indicate that c-Abl may mediates Ang II-induced podocyte apoptosis, and inhibition of c-Abl expression can protect podocytes from Ang II-induced injury.
PMCID: PMC3758790  PMID: 23515840
c-Abl; Apoptosis; Angiotensin II, Podocyte; p53
5.  Podocyte Injury Caused by Indoxyl Sulfate, a Uremic Toxin and Aryl-Hydrocarbon Receptor Ligand 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(9):e108448.
Indoxyl sulfate is a uremic toxin and a ligand of the aryl-hydrocarbon receptor (AhR), a transcriptional regulator. Elevated serum indoxyl sulfate levels may contribute to progressive kidney disease and associated vascular disease. We asked whether indoxyl sulfate injures podocytes in vivo and in vitro. Mice exposed to indoxyl sulfate for 8 w exhibited prominent tubulointerstitial lesions with vascular damage. Indoxyl sulfate-exposed mice with microalbuminuria showed ischemic changes, while more severely affected mice showed increased mesangial matrix, segmental solidification, and mesangiolysis. In normal mouse kidneys, AhR was predominantly localized to the podocyte nuclei. In mice exposed to indoxyl sulfate for 2 h, isolated glomeruli manifested increased Cyp1a1 expression, indicating AhR activation. After 8 w of indoxyl sulfate, podocytes showed foot process effacement, cytoplasmic vacuoles, and a focal granular and wrinkled pattern of podocin and synaptopodin expression. Furthermore, vimentin and AhR expression in the glomerulus was increased in the indoxyl sulfate-exposed glomeruli compared to controls. Glomerular expression of characteristic podocyte mRNAs was decreased, including Actn4, Cd2ap, Myh9, Nphs1, Nphs2, Podxl, Synpo, and Wt1. In vitro, immortalized-mouse podocytes exhibited AhR nuclear translocation beginning 30 min after 1 mM indoxyl sulfate exposure, and there was increased phospho-Rac1/Cdc42 at 2 h. After exposure to indoxyl sulfate for 24 h, mouse podocytes exhibited a pro-inflammatory phenotype, perturbed actin cytoskeleton, decreased expression of podocyte-specific genes, and decreased cell viability. In immortalized human podocytes, indoxyl sulfate treatment caused cell injury, decreased mRNA expression of podocyte-specific proteins, as well as integrins, collagens, cytoskeletal proteins, and bone morphogenetic proteins, and increased cytokine and chemokine expression. We propose that basal levels of AhR activity regulate podocyte function under normal conditions, and that increased activation of podocyte AhR by indoxyl sulfate contributes to progressive glomerular injury.
PMCID: PMC4171541  PMID: 25244654
6.  The Directed Differentiation of Human iPS Cells into Kidney Podocytes 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(9):e46453.
The loss of glomerular podocytes is a key event in the progression of chronic kidney disease resulting in proteinuria and declining function. Podocytes are slow cycling cells that are considered terminally differentiated. Here we provide the first report of the directed differentiation of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells to generate kidney cells with podocyte features. The iPS-derived podocytes share a morphological phenotype analogous with cultured human podocytes. Following 10 days of directed differentiation, iPS podocytes had an up-regulated expression of mRNA and protein localization for podocyte markers including synaptopodin, nephrin and Wilm’s tumour protein (WT1), combined with a down-regulation of the stem cell marker OCT3/4. In contrast to human podocytes that become quiescent in culture, iPS-derived cells maintain a proliferative capacity suggestive of a more immature phenotype. The transduction of iPS podocytes with fluorescent labeled-talin that were immunostained with podocin showed a cytoplasmic contractile response to angiotensin II (AII). A permeability assay provided functional evidence of albumin uptake in the cytoplasm of iPS podocytes comparable to human podocytes. Moreover, labeled iPS-derived podocytes were found to integrate into reaggregated metanephric kidney explants where they incorporated into developing glomeruli and co-expressed WT1. This study establishes the differentiation of iPS cells to kidney podocytes that will be useful for screening new treatments, understanding podocyte pathogenesis, and offering possibilities for regenerative medicine.
PMCID: PMC3460883  PMID: 23029522
7.  Mechanisms of the proteinuria induced by Rho GTPases 
Kidney International  2012;81(11):1075-1085.
Podocytes are highly differentiated cells that play an important role in maintaining glomerular filtration barrier integrity; a function regulated by small GTPase proteins of the Rho family. To investigate the role of Rho A in podocyte biology, we created transgenic mice expressing doxycycline-inducible constitutively active (V14Rho) or dominant-negative Rho A (N19Rho) in podocytes. Specific induction of either Rho A construct in podocytes caused albuminuria and foot process effacement along with disruption of the actin cytoskeleton as evidenced by decreased expression of the actin associated protein synaptopodin. The mechanisms of these adverse effects, however, appeared to be different. Active V14Rho enhanced actin polymerization, caused a reduction in nephrin mRNA and protein levels, promoted podocyte apoptosis, and decreased endogenous Rho A levels. In contrast, the dominant-negative N19Rho caused a loss of podocyte stress fibers, did not alter the expression of either nephrin or Rho A, and did not cause podocyte apoptosis. Thus, our findings suggest that Rho A plays an important role in maintaining the integrity of the glomerular filtration barrier under basal conditions, but enhancement of Rho A activity above basal levels promotes podocyte injury.
PMCID: PMC3352980  PMID: 22278020
8.  Retinoic Acid Inhibits HIV-1–Induced Podocyte Proliferation through the cAMP Pathway 
HIV-associated nephropathy is characterized by renal podocyte proliferation and dedifferentiation. This study found that all-trans retinoic acid (atRA) reverses the effects of HIV-1 infection in podocytes. Treatment with atRA reduced cell proliferation rate by causing G1 arrest and restored the expression of the differentiation markers (synaptopodin, nephrin, podocin, and WT-1) in HIV-1–infected podocytes. It is interesting that both atRA and 9-cis RA increased intracellular cAMP levels in podocytes. Podocytes expressed most isoforms of retinoic acid receptors (RAR) and retinoid X receptors (RXR) with the exception of RXRγ. RARα antagonists blocked atRA-induced cAMP production and its antiproliferative and prodifferentiation effects on podocytes, suggesting that RARα is required. For determination of the effect of increased intracellular cAMP on HIV-infected podocytes, cells were stimulated with either forskolin or 8-bromo-cAMP. Both compounds inhibited cell proliferation significantly and restored synaptopodin expression in HIV-infected podocytes. The effects of atRA were abolished by Rp-cAMP, an inhibitor of the cAMP/protein kinase A pathway and were enhanced by rolipram, an inhibitor of phosphodiesterase 4, suggesting that the antiproliferative and prodifferentiation effects of atRA on HIV-infected podocytes are cAMP dependent. Furthermore, both atRA and forskolin suppressed HIV-induced mitogen-activated protein kinase 1 and 2 and Stat3 phosphorylation. In vivo, atRA reduced proteinuria, cell proliferation, and glomerulosclerosis in HIV-1–transgenic mice. These findings suggest that atRA reverses the abnormal phenotype in HIV-1–infected podocytes by stimulating RARα-mediated intracellular cAMP production. These results demonstrate the mechanism by which atRA reverses the proliferation of podocytes that is induced by HIV-1.
PMCID: PMC3197239  PMID: 17182884
9.  Hypoxia decreases podocyte expression of slit diaphragm proteins 
Chronic hypoxia contributes to progressive tubulointerstitial injury and, consequently, renal failure. However, the effect of hypoxia on glomerular podocytes, which are integral to the slit diaphragm complex and responsible for selectivity of the glomerular filtration barrier, has not been completely determined.
Conditionally immortalized mouse podocyte cells were exposed to hypoxic (1% O2) or normoxic (room air) conditions for 24, 48, or 72 hours, after which cell viability was determined by MTT assay. Cells were stained with podocin and phalloidin to determine podocin and intracellular actin distribution. Expression of synaptopodin, CD2-associated protein (CD2AP), NcK, transforming growth factor-β1 (TGF-β1), hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF-1α) were evaluated by real-time polymerase chain reaction.
Podocytes exposed to hypoxia had significantly reduced viability at 48 (87%) and 72 hours (66%). There was disarrangement of intracellular filament actin by phalloidin staining, a 30% weaker fluorescence intensity by podocin staining, significantly reduced expression of synaptopodin (12%), CD2AP (42%), NcK (38%), and increased expression of TGF-β1 and P-ERK after hypoxia treatment.
Podocyte exposure to hypoxia leads to reduced viability and SD protein expression, which may explain persistent and/or increasing proteinuria in patients with progressive renal failure. Increased expression of TGF-β1 and P-ERK is associated with apoptosis and fibrosis, which could be the link between hypoxia and glomerular injury.
PMCID: PMC3413038  PMID: 22888268
podocytes; hypoxia; slit-diaphragm proteins
10.  Resolvin D1 Protects Podocytes in Adriamycin-Induced Nephropathy through Modulation of 14-3-3β Acetylation 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(6):e67471.
Resolvin D1 (RvD1) is a lipid-derived mediator generated during the resolution inflammation. While the immunoresolvent effects of Resolvins have been extensively studied in leukocytes, actions of Resolvins on intrinsic kidney cells have received little attention. The podocyte plays a central role in glomerular function, and podocyte damage can lead to proteinuria and glomerulosclerosis. This study examined whether RvD1 has renoprotective effects upon podocytes. We investigated a mouse model of adriamycin (ADR) nephropathy featuring rapid induction of podocyte damage and proteinuria followed by glomerulosclerosis. We identified a progressive loss of synaptopodin expression over a 28 day time-course of ADR nephropathy which was associated with increased acetylation of 14-3-3β and reduced synaptopodin phosphorylation. Groups of mice were given once daily RvD1 treatment (4 ng/g body weight/day) starting either 30 min (early treatment) or 14 days (late treatment) after ADR injection and continued until mice were killed on day 28. Early, but not late, RvD1 treatment attenuated ADR-induced proteinuria, glomerulosclerosis and tubulointerstitial fibrosis, modified macrophages from an M1 to M2 phenotype. Early RvD1 treatment prevented the down-regulation of synaptopodin expression and changes in 14-3-3β acetylation and synaptopodin phosphorylation. In a podocyte cell line, RvD1 was shown to prevent rapid TNF-α-induced down-regulation of synaptopodin expression. In transfection studies, TNF-α-induced a decrease in synaptopodin phosphorylation and an increase in acetylation of 14-3-3β, resulting in disassociation between 14-3-3β and synaptopodin. RvD1 prevented TNF-α induced post-translational modification of synaptopodin and 14-3-3β proteins, and maintained the synaptopodin/14-3-3β interaction. Furthermore, replacement of lysine K51, or K117+K122 in 14-3-3β with glutamine, to mimic lysine acetylation, significantly reduced the interaction between 14-3-3β and synaptopodin. In conclusion, our studies provide the first evidence that RvD1 can protect against podocyte damage by preventing down-regulation of synaptopodin through inhibition of 14-3-3β/synaptopodin dissociation. RvD1 treatment may have potential application in the treatment of chronic kidney disease.
PMCID: PMC3696081  PMID: 23840712
11.  TGF-beta1 reduces Wilms' tumor suppressor gene expression in podocytes 
Nephrology Dialysis Transplantation  2011;26(9):2746-2752.
Background. Wilms' tumor suppressor gene (WT1) is essential for normal podocyte function, and transforming growth factor (TGF)-beta contributes to focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS). We aimed to address whether TGF-beta affects WT1 expression in podocytes.
Methods. A human podocyte cell line treated with TGF-beta1 and kidneys in Alb/TGF-beta1-transgenic mice were analyzed for WT1 expression.
Results. In cultured podocytes, TGF-beta1 reduced WT1 protein expression determined by western blotting beginning at 8 h and decreased WT1 messenger RNA (mRNA) expression measured by quantitative reverse transcription–polymerase chain reaction beginning at 3 h. Knockdown of Smad4 by small hairpin (sh) RNA partially rescued the TGF-beta1-induced reduction of both WT1 protein and mRNA expressions in the cultured podocytes. TGF-beta1 did not alter luciferase activity of the reporter construct for a human WT1 promoter but reduced that for a human WT1 5′ enhancer construct, suggesting that TGF-beta1 may regulate WT1 expression by altering the 5′ enhancer activity. In the transgenic mice, WT1 protein expression in podocytes was decreased at 1 and 3 weeks of age, while glomeruloclerosis developed after 3 weeks.
Conclusion. TGF-beta1 reduces WT1 expression in cultured human podocytes and podocytes in mice before overt glomerulosclerosis begins. The effects are at least partially Smad4 dependent. Our findings identify a novel pathway linking TGF-beta1 to podocyte injury and FSGS. The WT1 reduction may be a useful marker for early podocyte injury.
PMCID: PMC3175051  PMID: 21378152
FSGS; podocytes; TGF-beta1; Wilms' tumor suppressor gene
12.  The Expression and Significance of Neuronal Iconic Proteins in Podocytes 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(4):e93999.
Growing evidence suggests that there are many common cell biological features shared by neurons and podocytes; however, the mechanism of podocyte foot process formation remains unclear. Comparing the mechanisms of process formation between two cell types should provide useful guidance from the progress of neuron research. Studies have shown that some mature proteins of podocytes, such as podocin, nephrin, and synaptopodin, were also expressed in neurons. In this study, using cell biological experiments and immunohistochemical techniques, we showed that some neuronal iconic molecules, such as Neuron-specific enolase, nestin and Neuron-specific nuclear protein, were also expressed in podocytes. We further inhibited the expression of Neuron-specific enolase, nestin, synaptopodin and Ubiquitin carboxy terminal hydrolase-1 by Small interfering RNA in cultured mouse podocytes and observed the significant morphological changes in treated podocytes. When podocytes were treated with Adriamycin, the protein expression of Neuron-specific enolase, nestin, synaptopodin and Ubiquitin carboxy terminal hydrolase-1 decreased over time. Meanwhile, the morphological changes in the podocytes were consistent with results of the Small interfering RNA treatment of these proteins. The data demonstrated that neuronal iconic proteins play important roles in maintaining and regulating the formation and function of podocyte processes.
PMCID: PMC3974844  PMID: 24699703
13.  Generation and characterization of a Tet-On (rtTA-M2) transgenic rat 
The tetracycline-inducible gene regulation system is a powerful tool that allows temporal and dose-dependent regulation of target transgene expression in vitro and in vivo. Several tetracycline-inducible transgenic mouse models have been described with ubiquitous or tissue-specific expression of tetracycline-transactivator (tTA), reverse tetracycline-transactivator (rtTA) or Tet repressor (TetR). Here we describe a Tet-On transgenic rat that ubiquitously expresses rtTA-M2 driven by the murine ROSA 26 promoter.
The homozygous rat line (ROSA-rtTA-M2) generated by lentiviral vector injection, has a single integration site and was derived from the offspring of a genetic mosaic founder with multiple transgene integrations. The rtTA-M2 transgene integrated into an intron of a putative gene on chromosome 2 and does not appear to affect the tissue-specificity or expression of that gene. Fibroblasts from the ROSA-rtTA-M2 rats were transduced with a TetO7/CMV-EGFP lentivirus and exhibited doxycycline dose-dependent expression of the EGFP reporter transgene, in vitro. In addition, doxycycline-inducible EGFP expression was observed, in vivo, when the TetO7/CMV-EGFP lentivirus was injected into testis, kidney and muscle tissues of ROSA-rtTA-M2 rats.
This conditional expression rat model may have application for transgenic overexpression or knockdown studies of gene function in development, disease and gene therapy.
PMCID: PMC2834583  PMID: 20158911
14.  Epithelial-to-Mesenchymal Transition in Podocytes Mediated by Activation of NADPH Oxidase in Hyperhomocysteinemia 
Pflugers Archiv  2011;462(3):455-467.
The present study tested the hypothesis that hyperhomocysteinemia (hHcys) induces podocytes to undergo epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) through the activation of NADPH oxidase (Nox). It was found that increased homocysteine (Hcys) level suppressed the expression of slit diaphragm-associated proteins, P-cadherin and zonula occludens-1 (ZO-1) in conditionally immortalized mouse podocytes, indicating the loss of their epithelial features. Meanwhile, Hcys remarkably increased the abundance of mesenchymal markers, such as fibroblast specific protein-1 (FSP-1) and α-smooth muscle actin (α-SMA). These phenotype changes in podocytes induced by Hcys were accompanied by enhanced superoxide (O2.−) production, which was substantially suppressed by inhibition of Nox activity. Functionally, Hcys significantly enhanced the permeability of the podocyte monolayer coupled with increased EMT, and this EMT-related increase in cell permeability could be restored by Nox inhibitors. In mice lacking gp91phox (gp91−/−), an essential Nox subunit gene, hHcys-enhanced podocyte EMT and consequent glomerular injury were examined. In wild-type (gp91+/+) mice, hHcys induced by a folate-free (FF) diet markedly enhanced expression of mesenchymal markers (FSP-1 and α-SMA) but decreased expression of epithelial markers of podocytes in glomeruli, which were not observed in gp91−/− mouse glomeruli. Podocyte injury, glomerular sclerotic pathology, and marked albuminuria observed in gp91+/+ mice with hHcys were all significantly attenuated in gp91−/− mice. These results suggest that hHcys induces EMT of podocytes through activation of Nox, which represents a novel mechanism of hHcys-associated podocyte injury.
PMCID: PMC3299405  PMID: 21647593
Homocysteinemia; NADPH oxidase; Podocytes; Epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition; End-stage renal disease
15.  Morphine Induces Albuminuria by Compromising Podocyte Integrity 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(3):e55748.
Morphine has been reported to accelerate the progression of chronic kidney disease. However, whether morphine affects slit diaphragm (SD), the major constituent of glomerular filtration barrier, is still unclear. In the present study, we examined the effect of morphine on glomerular filtration barrier in general and podocyte integrity in particular. Mice were administered either normal saline or morphine for 72 h, then urine samples were collected and kidneys were subsequently isolated for immunohistochemical studies and Western blot. For in vitro studies, human podocytes were treated with morphine and then probed for the molecular markers of slit diaphragm. Morphine-receiving mice displayed a significant increase in albuminuria and showed effacement of podocyte foot processes. In both in vivo and in vitro studies, the expression of synaptopodin, a molecular marker for podocyte integrity, and the slit diaphragm constituting molecules (SDCM), such as nephrin, podocin, and CD2-associated protein (CD2AP), were decreased in morphine-treated podocytes. In vitro studies indicated that morphine modulated podocyte expression of SDCM through opiate mu (MOR) and kappa (KOR) receptors. Since morphine also enhanced podocyte oxidative stress, the latter seems to contribute to decreased SDCM expression. In addition, AKT, p38, and JNK pathways were involved in morphine-induced down regulation of SDCM in human podocytes. These findings demonstrate that morphine has the potential to alter the glomerular filtration barrier by compromising the integrity of podocytes.
PMCID: PMC3612045  PMID: 23555556
16.  Rosuvastatin protects against podocyte apoptosis in vitro 
Background. Clinical studies suggest that statins reduce proteinuria and slow the decline in kidney function in chronic kidney disease. Given a rich literature identifying podocyte apoptosis as an early step in the pathophysiological progression to proteinuria and glomerulosclerosis, we hypothesized that rosuvastatin protects podocytes from undergoing apoptosis. Regarding a potential mechanism, our lab has shown that the cell cycle protein, p21, has a prosurvial role in podocytes and there is literature showing statins upregulate p21 in other renal cells. Therefore, we queried whether rosuvastatin is prosurvival in podocytes through a p21-dependent pathway.
Methods. Two independent apoptotic triggers, puromycin aminonucleoside (PA) and adriamycin (ADR), were used to induce apoptosis in p21 +/+ and p21 −/− conditionally immortalized mouse podocytes with or without pre-exposure to rosuvastatin. Apoptosis was measured by two methods: Hoechst 33342 staining and fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS). To establish a role for p21, p21 levels were measured by western blotting following rosuvastatin exposure and p21 was stably transduced into p21 −/− mouse podocytes.
Results. Rosuvastatin protects against ADR- and PA-induced apoptosis in podocytes. Further, exposure to rosuvastatin increases p21 levels in podocytes in vitro. ADR induces apoptosis in p21 −/− mouse podocytes, but rosuvastatin's protective effect is not seen in the absence of p21. Reconstituting p21 in p21 −/− podocytes restores rosuvastatin's prosurvival effect.
Conclusion. Rosuvastatin is prosurvival in injured podocytes. Rosuvastatin exerts its protective effect through a p21-dependent antiapoptotic pathway. These findings suggest that statins decrease proteinuria by protecting against podocyte apoptosis and subsequent podocyte depopulation.
PMCID: PMC2727303  PMID: 18820279
podocyte; apoptosis; p21; statins
17.  Smad2-Dependent Downregulation of miR-30 Is Required for TGF-β-Induced Apoptosis in Podocytes 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(9):e75572.
Transforming growth factors beta (TGF-β) are multi-functional cytokines capable of inducing apoptosis in epithelial cells, including glomerular podocytes. We and others have previously shown that podocyte-selective genetic deletion of the microRNA (miR)-processing enzyme, Dicer, caused glomerulosclerosis that was associated with podocyte apoptosis, and the miR-30 family was implicated in the process. Here, we report that apoptosis-associated genes were highly enriched among the predicted targets of miR-30 when compared with randomly selected miRs (26% vs. 4.5 ± 2.1%) or with the known TGF-β-regulated miR-192 (6%), miR-216a (5.1%), and miR-217 (0%). miR-30 family members were abundantly expressed in podocytes in normal mice but were downregulated in albumin/TGF-β transgenic mice with podocyte apoptosis and glomerulosclerosis. In vitro, TGF-β downregulated miR-30s in wildtype and Smad3-deficient, but not Smad2- or Smad2/Smad3-deficient, podocytes. The TGF-β-induced activation of caspase 3 and an increase in TUNEL-positive nuclei were significantly inhibited by the lentivirus-mediated overexpression of miR-30d, but not by a scrambled control miR, in podocytes. TGF-β stimulated the phosphorylation of pro-apoptotic p53 in podocytes with lentiviral expression of a scrambled miR, but not in podocytes expressing miR-30d. In contrast, miR-30d had no effect on the phosphorylation of pro-apoptotic p38 MAP kinase induced by TGF-β. Thus, we report that Smad2-dependent inhibition of miR-30s in podocytes is required for the activation of p53 and the induction of apoptosis by TGF-β. These results demonstrate a novel functional role for miR-30 in podocyte survival and indicate that the loss of miR-30 survival signaling is a novel and specific mechanism of TGF-β-induced podocyte apoptosis during glomerulosclerosis. We propose the therapeutic replacement of miR-30 as a novel strategy to prevent the podocyte apoptosis that is characteristic of progressive glomerular diseases.
PMCID: PMC3784460  PMID: 24086574
18.  Nef stimulates proliferation of glomerular podocytes through activation of Src-dependent Stat3 and MAPK1,2 pathways 
Journal of Clinical Investigation  2004;114(5):643-651.
In collapsing focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS) of HIV-associated nephropathy (HIVAN), podocytes exhibit a high proliferation rate and loss of differentiation markers. We have found previously that the nef gene of HIV-1 is responsible for these changes. Here, we investigated the signaling pathways induced by Nef and its role in the pathogenesis of HIVAN. Using conditionally immortalized podocytes after differentiation, we found that infection of podocytes with nef increased Src kinase activity and signal transducer and activator of transcription 3 (Stat3) phosphorylation and activated the Ras–c-Raf–MAPK1,2 pathway. A dominant negative mutant of Src abolished the Nef effect, whereas inhibition of MAPK1,2 or dominant negative Stat3 reduced Nef effects partially. Reducing the expression of Nef with small interference RNA reversed the Nef effect. Mutation of Nef in the PxxP or R105R106 motifs diminished Nef signaling and the phenotypic changes in podocytes. Both phospho-MAPK1,2 and phospho-Stat3 staining increased in podocytes of kidneys from HIV-1 transgenic mice compared with their littermates and in podocytes of kidneys from HIVAN patients compared with HIV patients with non-HIVAN kidney diseases or non-HIV patients with idiopathic FSGS, classic FSGS, or minimal-change disease. These data suggest that Nef-induced activation of Stat3 and Ras-MAPK1,2 via Src-dependent pathways is responsible for podocyte proliferation and dedifferentiation, a characteristic finding in collapsing FSGS of HIVAN.
PMCID: PMC514582  PMID: 15343382
19.  Susceptibility loci for murine HIV-associated nephropathy encode trans-regulators of podocyte gene expression 
The Journal of Clinical Investigation  2009;119(5):1178-1188.
Multiple studies have linked podocyte gene variants to diverse sporadic nephropathies, including HIV-1–associated nephropathy (HIVAN). We previously used linkage analysis to identify a major HIVAN susceptibility locus in mouse, HIVAN1. We performed expression quantitative trait locus (eQTL) analysis of podocyte genes in HIV-1 transgenic mice to gain further insight into genetic susceptibility to HIVAN. In 2 independent crosses, we found that transcript levels of the podocyte gene nephrosis 2 homolog (Nphs2), were heritable and controlled by an ancestral cis-eQTL that conferred a 3-fold variation in expression and produced reactive changes in other podocyte genes. In addition, Nphs2 expression was controlled by 2 trans-eQTLs that localized to the nephropathy susceptibility intervals HIVAN1 and HIVAN2. Transregulation of podocyte genes was observed in the absence of HIV-1 or glomerulosclerosis, indicating that nephropathy susceptibility alleles induce latent perturbations in the podocyte expression network. Presence of the HIV-1 transgene interfered with transregulation, demonstrating effects of gene-environment interactions on disease. These data demonstrate that transcript levels of Nphs2 and related podocyte-expressed genes are networked and suggest that the genetic lesions introduced by HIVAN susceptibility alleles perturb this regulatory pathway and transcriptional responses to HIV-1, increasing susceptibility to nephropathy.
PMCID: PMC2673856  PMID: 19381020
20.  Development of an All-in-One Lentiviral Vector System Based on the Original TetR for the Easy Generation of Tet-ON Cell Lines 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(8):e23734.
Lentiviral vectors (LVs) are considered one of the most promising vehicles to efficiently deliver genetic information for basic research and gene therapy approaches. Combining LVs with drug-inducible expression systems should allow tight control of transgene expression with minimal side effect on relevant target cells. A new doxycycline-regulated system based on the original TetR repressor was developed in 1998 as an alternative to the TetR-VP16 chimeras (tTA and rtTA) to avoid secondary effects due to the expression of transactivator domains. However, previously described TetR-based systems required cell cloning and/or antibiotic selection of tetracycline-responsive cells in order to achieve good regulation. In the present manuscript we have constructed a dual Tet-ON system based on two lentiviral vectors, one expressing the TetR through the spleen focus forming virus (SFFV) promoter (STetR) and a second expressing eGFP through the regulatable CMV-TetO promoter (CTetOE). Using these vectors we have demonstrated that the TetR repressor, contrary to the reverse transactivator (rtTA), can be expressed in excess to bind and modulate a high number of TetO operons. We have also showed that this dual vector system can generate regulatable bulk cell lines (expressing high levels of TetR) that are able to modulate transgene expression either by varying doxycycline concentration and/or by varying the amount of CTetOE vector genomes per cell. Based on these results we have developed a new all-in-one lentiviral vector (CEST) driving the expression of TetR through the SFFV promoter and the expression of eGFP through the doxycycline-responsive CMV-TetO operon. This vector efficiently produced Tet-ON regulatable immortalized (293T) and primary (human mesenchymal stem cells and human primary fibroblasts) cells. Bulk doxycycline-responsive cell lines express high levels of the transgene with low amount of doxycycline and are phenotypically indistinct from its parental cells.
PMCID: PMC3158098  PMID: 21876765
21.  Erk5 is a mediator to TGFβ1-induced loss of phenotype and function in human podocytes 
Background: Podocytes are highly specialized cells integral to the normal functioning kidney, however, in diabetic nephropathy injury occurs leading to a compromised phenotype and podocyte dysfunction which critically produces podocyte loss with subsequent renal impairment. TGFβ1 holds a major role in the development of diabetic nephropathy. Erk5 is an atypical mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase involved in pathways modulating cell survival, proliferation, differentiation, and motility. Accordingly, the role of Erk5 in mediating TGFβ1-induced podocyte damage was investigated.
Methods: Conditionally immortalized human podocytes were stimulated with TGFβ1 (2.5 ng/ml); inhibition of Erk5 activation was conducted with the chemical inhibitor BIX02188 (10 μM) directed to the upstream Mek5; inhibition of Alk5 was performed with SB431542 (10 μM); Ras signaling was inhibited with farnesylthiosalicylic acid (10 μM). Intracellular signaling proteins were investigated by western blotting; phenotype was explored by immunofluorescence; proliferation was assessed with a MTS assay; motility was examined with a scratch assay; barrier function was studied using electric cell-substrate impedance sensing; apoptosis was studied with annexin V-FITC flow cytometry.
Results: Podocytes expressed Erk5 which was phosphorylated by TGFβ1 via Mek5, whilst not involving Ras. TGFβ1 altered podocyte phenotype by decreasing P-cadherin staining and increasing α-SMA, as well as reducing podocyte barrier function; both were prevented by inhibiting Erk5 phosphorylation with BIX02188. TGFβ1-induced podocyte proliferation was prevented by BIX02188, whereas the induced apoptosis was not. Podocyte motility was reduced by BIX02188 alone and further diminished with TGFβ1 co-incubation.
Conclusion: These results describe for the first time the expression of Erk5 in podocytes and identify it as a potential target for the treatment of diabetic renal disease.
PMCID: PMC4001011  PMID: 24795631
TGF-beta; Erk5; podocytes; diabetic nephropathies; barrier function; apoptosis; migration
22.  Reversible cell cycle entry in adult kidney podocytes through regulated control of telomerase and Wnt signaling 
Nature Medicine  2011;18(1):111-119.
Mechanisms of epithelial cell renewal remain poorly understood in the mammalian kidney, particularly in the glomerulus, a site of cellular damage in chronic kidney disease. Within the glomerulus, podocytes – differentiated epithelial cells critical for filtration – are thought to lack significant capacity for regeneration. Here, we show that podocytes rapidly lose differentiation markers and enter cell cycle in adult mice in which the telomerase protein component TERT is conditionally expressed. Transgenic TERT expression induces marked upregulation of Wnt signaling and disrupts glomerular structure resulting in a collapsing glomerulopathy resembling those in humans, including HIV-associated nephropathy (HIVAN). Human and mouse HIVAN kidneys show increased levels of TERT and activation of Wnt signaling, indicating that these are general features of collapsing glomerulopathies. Either silencing transgenic TERT expression or inhibition of Wnt signaling through systemic expression of the Wnt-inhibitor Dkk1 in TERT transgenic mice results in marked normalization of podocytes, including rapid cell cycle exit, re-expression of differentiation markers and improved filtration barrier function. These data reveal an unexpected property of podocytes to reversibly enter cell cycle, suggest that podocyte renewal may contribute to glomerular homeostasis and implicate the telomerase and Wnt/β-catenin pathways in podocyte proliferation and disease.
PMCID: PMC3272332  PMID: 22138751
kidney; podocyte; glomerulus; collapsing glomerulopathy; telomerase; TERT; Wnt
23.  Gα12 Activation in Podocytes Leads to Cumulative Changes in Glomerular Collagen Expression, Proteinuria and Glomerulosclerosis 
Glomerulosclerosis is a common pathologic finding that often progresses to renal failure. The mechanisms of chronic kidney disease progression are not well-defined but may include activation of numerous vasoactive and inflammatory pathways. We hypothesized that podocytes are susceptible to filtered plasma components including hormones and growth factors that stimulate signaling pathways leading to glomerulosclerosis. Gα12 couples to numerous G-protein-coupled receptors (GPCR) and regulates multiple epithelial responses including proliferation, apoptosis, permeability and the actin cytoskeleton. Herein, we report that genetic activation of Gα12 in podocytes leads to time dependent increases in proteinuria and glomerulosclerosis. To mimic activation of Gα12-pathways, constitutively active Gα12(QL) was conditionally expressed in podocytes using Nphs2-Cre and LacZfloxed QLα12 transgenic mice. Some QLα12LacZ+/Cre+ mice developed proteinuria at 4-6m, and most were proteinuric by 12m. Proteinuria increased with age, and by 12-14m many demonstrated glomerulosclerosis with ultrastructural changes including foot process fusion and both mesangial and subendothelial deposits. QLα12LacZ+/Cre+ mice showed no changes in podocyte number, apoptosis, proliferation, or Rho/Src activation. Real-time PCR revealed no significant changes in Nphs1, Nphs2, Cd2ap, or Trpc6 expression, but Col4a2 message was increased in younger and older mice while Col4a5 was decreased in older mice. Confocal microscopy revealed disordered collagen IVα1/2 staining in older mice and loss of α5 without changes in other collagen IV subunits. Taken together, these studies suggest that Gα12 activation promotes glomerular injury without podocyte depletion through a novel mechanism regulating collagen (α)IV expression, and supports the notion that glomerular damage may accrue through persistent GPCR activation in podocytes.
PMCID: PMC3338890  PMID: 22249312
24.  Ligation of α-Dystroglycan on Podocytes Induces Intracellular Signaling: A New Mechanism for Podocyte Effacement? 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(6):e5979.
α-Dystroglycan is a negatively charged glycoprotein that covers the apical and basolateral membrane of the podocyte. Its transmembrane binding to the cytoskeleton is regulated via tyrosine phosphorylation (pY892) of β-dystroglycan. At the basolateral side α-dystroglycan binds the glomerular basement membrane. At the apical membrane, it plays a role in the maintenance of the filtration slit. In this study, we evaluated whether ligation of α-dystroglycan with specific antibodies or natural ligands induces intracellular signaling, and whether there is an effect on podocyte architecture.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Conditionally immortalized podocytes were exposed in vitro to antibodies to α-dystroglycan, and to fibronectin, biglycan, laminin and agrin. Intracellular calcium fluxes, phosphorylation of β-dystroglycan and podocyte architecture were studied. Antibodies to α-dystroglycan could specifically induce calcium signaling. Fibronectin also induced calcium signaling, and led to dephosphorylation of pY892 in β-dystroglycan. Ligation of α-dystroglycan resulted in an altered actin architecture, a decreased number of podocyte pedicles and a more flattened appearance of the podocyte.
We conclude that ligation of α-dystroglycan on podocytes induces intracellular calcium signaling, which leads to an altered cytoskeleton architecture akin to the situation of foot process effacement. In particular the ability of fibronectin to induce intracellular signaling events is of interest, since the expression and excretion of this protein is upregulated in several proteinuric diseases. Therefore, fibronectin-induced signaling via dystroglycan may be a novel mechanism for foot process effacement in proteinuric diseases.
PMCID: PMC2695560  PMID: 19543532
25.  Decreased miR-26a Expression Correlates with the Progression of Podocyte Injury in Autoimmune Glomerulonephritis 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(10):e110383.
MicroRNAs contribute to the pathogenesis of certain diseases and may serve as biomarkers. We analyzed glomerular microRNA expression in B6.MRLc1, which serve as a mouse model of autoimmune glomerulonephritis. We found that miR-26a was the most abundantly expressed microRNA in the glomerulus of normal C57BL/6 and that its glomerular expression in B6.MRLc1 was significantly lower than that in C57BL/6. In mouse kidneys, podocytes mainly expressed miR-26a, and glomerular miR-26a expression in B6.MRLc1 mice correlated negatively with the urinary albumin levels and podocyte-specific gene expression. Puromycin-induced injury of immortalized mouse podocytes decreased miR-26a expression, perturbed the actin cytoskeleton, and increased the release of exosomes containing miR-26a. Although miR-26a expression increased with differentiation of immortalized mouse podocytes, silencing miR-26a decreased the expression of genes associated with the podocyte differentiation and formation of the cytoskeleton. In particular, the levels of vimentin and actin significantly decreased. In patients with lupus nephritis and IgA nephropathy, glomerular miR-26a levels were significantly lower than those of healthy controls. In B6.MRLc1 and patients with lupus nephritis, miR-26a levels in urinary exosomes were significantly higher compared with those for the respective healthy control. These data indicate that miR-26a regulates podocyte differentiation and cytoskeletal integrity, and its altered levels in glomerulus and urine may serve as a marker of injured podocytes in autoimmune glomerulonephritis.
PMCID: PMC4201534  PMID: 25329154

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