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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.  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
3.  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
4.  Myo1e Impairment Results in Actin Reorganization, Podocyte Dysfunction, and Proteinuria in Zebrafish and Cultured Podocytes 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(8):e72750.
Podocytes serve as an important constituent of the glomerular filtration barrier. Recently, we and others identified Myo1e as a key molecular component of the podocyte cytoskeleton.
Myo1e mRNA and protein was expressed in human and mouse kidney sections as determined by Northern blot and reverse transcriptase PCR, and its expression was more evident in podocytes by immunofluorescence. By specific knock-down of MYO1E in zebrafish, the injected larvae exhibited pericardial edema and pronephric cysts, consistent with the appearance of protein in condensed incubation supernate. Furthermore, specific inhibition of Myo1e expression in a conditionally immortalized podocyte cell line induced morphological changes, actin cytoskeleton rearrangement, and dysfunction in cell proliferation, migration, endocytosis, and adhesion with the glomerular basement membrane.
Our results revealed that Myo1e is a key component contributing to the functional integrity of podocytes. Its impairment may cause actin cytoskeleton re-organization, alteration of cell shape, and membrane transport, and podocyte drop-out from the glomerular basement membrane, which might eventually lead to an impaired glomerular filtration barrier and proteinuria.
PMCID: PMC3747079  PMID: 23977349
5.  Visualizing the podocyte with multiphoton microscopy 
The podocyte is a highly specialized kidney glomerular epithelial cell that plays an essential role in glomerular filtration and is believed to be the target of numerous glomerular diseases leading to proteinuria. Despite the leaps in our understanding of podocyte biology, new methodologies are needed to facilitate research into the cell. Multiphoton microscopy (MPM) was used to image the nephrin knockout/green fluorescent protein (GFP) knock-in heterozygote (Nphs1tm1Rkl/J) mouse. The nephrin promoter restricts GFP expression to the podocytes that fluoresce green under excitation. From the exterior of an intact kidney, MPM can peer into the renal parenchyma and visualize the podocytes that outline the globular shape of the glomeruli. Details as fine as the podocyte’s secondary processes can be resolved. In contrast, podocytes exhibit no fluorescence in the wildtype mouse and are invisible to MPM. Phenotypically, there are no significant differences between wildtype and Nphs1tm1Rkl/J mice in body weight, urinary albumin excretion, creatinine clearance, or glomerular depth. Interestingly, the glomeruli are closer to the kidney capsule in female mice, making the gender the preferred choice for MPM. For the first time, green fluorescent podocytes in a mouse model free of confounding phenotypes can be visualized unequivocally and in the “positive” by MPM, facilitating intravital studies of the podocyte.
PMCID: PMC3518538  PMID: 23022193
green fluorescent protein; 2-photon microscopy; podocyte processes; renal corpuscle
6.  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
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.  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
9.  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
10.  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
11.  Downregulation of the antioxidant protein peroxiredoxin 2 contributes to angiotensin II–mediated podocyte apoptosis 
Kidney International  2011;80(9):959-969.
Podocytes have a significant role in establishing selective permeability of the glomerular filtration barrier. Sustained renin–angiotensin–aldosterone system activation is crucial to the pathogenesis of podocyte injury, but the mechanisms by which angiotensin II modulates podocyte survival due to physiological or injurious stimuli remain unclear. Here, we used proteomic analysis to find new mediators of angiotensin II–induced podocyte injury. Antioxidant protein peroxiredoxin 2 expression was decreased in cultured podocytes stimulated with angiotensin II. Peroxiredoxin 2 was found to be expressed in podocytes in vivo, and its expression was decreased in the glomeruli of rats transgenic for angiotensin II type 1 receptors in a podocyte-specific manner, or in rats infused with angiotensin II. Downregulation of peroxiredoxin 2 in podocytes resulted in increased reactive oxygen species release, protein overoxidation, and inhibition of the Akt pathway. Both treatment with angiotensin II and downregulation of peroxiredoxin 2 expression led to apoptosis of podocytes. Thus, peroxiredoxin 2 is an important modulator of angiotensin II–induced podocyte injury.
PMCID: PMC3257043  PMID: 21814176
Akt; angiotensin II; apoptosis; peroxiredoxin 2; podocyte; reactive oxygen species
12.  Apoptosis in podocytes induced by TGF-β and Smad7 
Journal of Clinical Investigation  2001;108(6):807-816.
Primary and secondary forms of focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS) are characterized by depletion of podocytes and constitute a central manifestation of chronic progressive glomerular diseases. Here we report that podocytes undergo apoptosis at early stages in the course of progressive glomerulosclerosis in TGF-β1 transgenic mice. Apoptosis is associated with progressive depletion of podocytes and precedes mesangial expansion. Smad7 protein expression is strongly induced specifically in damaged podocytes of transgenic mice and in cultured murine podocytes treated with TGF-β. TGF-β1 and Smad7 each induce apoptosis in podocytes, and their coexpression has an additive effect. Activation of p38 MAP kinase and caspase-3 is required for TGF-β–mediated apoptosis, but not for apoptosis induced by Smad7. Unlike TGF-β, Smad7 inhibits nuclear translocation and transcriptional activity of the cell survival factor NF-κB. Our results suggest a novel functional role for Smad7 as amplifier of TGF-β−induced apoptosis in podocytes and a new pathomechanism for podocyte depletion in progressive glomerulosclerosis.
PMCID: PMC200928  PMID: 11560950
13.  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
14.  Math6 expression during kidney development and altered expression in a mouse model of glomerulosclerosis 
Math6 is a tissue-restricted member of the Atonal family of bHLH transcription factors and has been implicated in specification and differentiation of cell lineages in the brain. We identify here Math6 as a podocyte expressed bHLH protein that was downregulated in HIV-associated nephropathy; a collapsing glomerulopathy characterized by podocyte dedifferentiation. Early in metanephric development, Math6 was expressed in metanephric mesenchyme, but not ureteric bud-derived cells, with overall Math6 expression most abundant in the nephrogenic zone, including developing glomeruli. In adult kidney, Math6 expression was restricted to podocytes. In adult podocyte cell lines and kidneys from the transgenic mouse model of HIVAN, Math6 podocyte expression was reduced concurrent with previously reported reductions in Nephrin and Synaptopodin expression, suggesting a correlation between the loss of Math6 expression and typical podocyte terminal differentiation markers. These studies suggest that Math6 may participate in kidney development, and may be a permissive factor for podocyte differentiation.
PMCID: PMC2203212  PMID: 16937370
podocyte; HIV-associated nephropathy; HIV-1; transcriptional regulation grant support: NIH DK61395
15.  RAGE Mediates Podocyte Injury in Adriamycin-induced Glomerulosclerosis 
In the kidney, the receptor for advanced glycation end products (RAGE) is principally expressed in the podocyte at low levels, but is upregulated in both human and mouse glomerular diseases. Because podocyte injury is central to proteinuric states, such as the nephrotic syndrome, the murine adriamycin nephrosis model was used to explore the role of RAGE in podocyte damage. In this model, administration of the anthracycline antibiotic adriamycin provokes severe podocyte stress and glomerulosclerosis. In contrast to wild-type animals, adriamycin-treated RAGE-null mice were significantly protected from effacement of the podocyte foot processes, albuminuria, and glomerulosclerosis. Administration of adriamycin induced rapid generation of RAGE ligands, and treatment with soluble RAGE protected against podocyte injury and glomerulosclerosis. In vitro, incubation of RAGE-expressing murine podocytes with adriamycin stimulated AGE formation, and treatment with RAGE ligands rapidly activated nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADPH)-oxidase, via p44/p42 MAP kinase signaling, and upregulated pro-fibrotic growth factors. These data suggest that RAGE may contribute to the pathogenesis of podocyte injury in sclerosing glomerulopathies such as focal segmental glomerulosclerosis.
PMCID: PMC2386730  PMID: 18256352
16.  Podocyte-specific RAP1GAP expression contributes to focal segmental glomerulosclerosis–associated glomerular injury 
The Journal of Clinical Investigation  2014;124(4):1757-1769.
Injury to the specialized epithelial cells of the glomerulus (podocytes) underlies the pathogenesis of all forms of proteinuric kidney disease; however, the specific genetic changes that mediate podocyte dysfunction after injury are not fully understood. Here, we performed a large-scale insertional mutagenic screen of injury-resistant podocytes isolated from mice and found that increased expression of the gene Rap1gap, encoding a RAP1 activation inhibitor, ameliorated podocyte injury resistance. Furthermore, injured podocytes in murine models of disease and kidney biopsies from glomerulosclerosis patients exhibited increased RAP1GAP, resulting in diminished glomerular RAP1 activation. In mouse models, podocyte-specific inactivation of Rap1a and Rap1b induced massive glomerulosclerosis and premature death. Podocyte-specific Rap1a and Rap1b haploinsufficiency also resulted in severe podocyte damage, including features of podocyte detachment. Over-expression of RAP1GAP in cultured podocytes induced loss of activated β1 integrin, which was similarly observed in kidney biopsies from patients. Furthermore, preventing elevation of RAP1GAP levels in injured podocytes maintained β1 integrin–mediated adhesion and prevented cellular detachment. Taken together, our findings suggest that increased podocyte expression of RAP1GAP contributes directly to podocyte dysfunction by a mechanism that involves loss of RAP1-mediated activation of β1 integrin.
PMCID: PMC3973092  PMID: 24642466
17.  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
18.  The kd/kd Mouse Is a Model of Collapsing Glomerulopathy 
Collapsing glomerulopathy (CG) is associated with disorders that markedly perturb the phenotype of podocytes. The kd/kd mouse has been studied for immune and genetic causes of microcystic tubulointerstitial nephritis with little attention to its glomerular lesion. Because histologic examination revealed classic morphologic features of CG, the question arises whether podocytes in kd/kd mice exhibit additional phenotypic criteria for CG. Utilizing Tg26 mice as a positive control, immunohistochemical profiling of the podocyte phenotype was conducted simultaneously on both models. Similar to Tg26 kidneys, podocytes in kd/kd kidneys showed de novo cyclin D1, Ki-67, and desmin expression with loss of synaptopodin and WT-1 expression. Electron micrographs showed collapsed capillaries, extensive foot process effacement, and dysmorphic mitochondria in podocytes. These results indicate that the kd/kd mouse is a model of CG and raise the possibility that human equivalents of the kd susceptibility gene may exist in patients with CG.
PMCID: PMC1440888  PMID: 16120817
19.  Advanced glycation end-products reduce podocyte adhesion by activating the renin-angiotensin system and increasing integrin-linked kinase 
The aim of this study was to investigate the effects of advanced glycation end-products (AGEs) on podocyte adhesion and the underlying mechanisms. Immortalized mouse podocytes were exposed to various conditions and podocyte adhesion was evaluated using a hexosaminidase assay. The expression levels of integrin-linked kinase (ILK) were measured by quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) and western blotting. Treatment with AGEs resulted in a significant, concentration-dependent reduction in podocyte adhesion (P<0.05) and an incremental rise in ILK expression up to a maximum of 100%. Pretreatment with losartan significantly prevented the upregulation of ILK and attenuated the loss of podocyte adhesion observed in podocytes exposed to AGEs (P<0.05). However, the adhesion of losartan-treated podocytes remained lower than that of the podocytes exposed to bovine serum albumin. The results indicate that AGEs reduce podocyte adhesion via the upregulation of ILK expression, which occurs partly through activation of the renin-angiotensin system in podocytes.
PMCID: PMC3829755  PMID: 24255680
advanced glycation end-products; podocyte; adhesion; integrin-linked kinase
20.  Ginseng total saponin modulates podocyte p130Cas in diabetic condition 
Journal of Ginseng Research  2013;37(1):94-99.
Proteinuric conditions demonstrate structural and compositional changes of the foot processes and slit diaphragms between podocytes. p130Cas in podocytes serves as an adapter protein anchoring glomerular basement membrane to actin filaments of podocyte cytoskeleton. To investigate the effect of ginseng total saponin (GTS) on the pathologic changes of podocyte p130Cas induced by diabetic conditions, we cultured mouse podocytes under: 1) normal glucose (5 mM, control); 2) high glucose (HG, 30 mM); 3) advanced glycosylation endproducts (AGE)-added; or 4) HG plus AGE-added conditions and treated with GTS. In confocal imaging, p130Cas colocalized with zonula occludens-1 and synaptopodin connecting to F-actin. However, diabetic conditions relocalized p130Cas molecules at perinuclear cytoplasmic area and reduced the intensity of p130Cas. In Western blotting, diabetic conditions, especially HG plus AGE-added condition, decreased cellular p130Cas protein levels at 24 and 48 h. GTS improved such quantitative and qualitative changes. These findings imply that HG and AGE have an influence on the redistribution and amount of p130Cas of podocytes, which can be reversed by GTS.
PMCID: PMC3659616  PMID: 23717162
Panax ginseng; Ginseng total saponin; Podocytes; p130Cas; Advanced glycosylation end products
21.  Dedifferentiation of Immortalized Human Podocytes in Response to Transforming Growth Factor-β 
Diabetes  2011;60(6):1779-1788.
Diabetic nephropathy is associated with dedifferentiation of podocytes, losing the specialized features required for efficient glomerular function and acquiring a number of profibrotic, proinflammatory, and proliferative features. These result from tight junction and cytoskeletal rearrangement, augmented proliferation, and apoptosis.
Experiments were performed in conditionally immortalized human podocytes developed by transfection with the temperature-sensitive SV40-T gene. Cells were then cultured in the presence of transforming growth factor (TGF)-β1 or angiotensin II in the presence or absence of a selective inhibitor of the TGF-β type I receptor kinase, SB-431542. Gene and protein expression were then examined by real-time RT-PCR and immunofluorescence, and correlated with changes observed in vivo in experimental diabetes.
Treatment of cells with TGF-β1 resulted in dynamic changes in their morphology, starting with retraction and shortening of foot processes and finishing with the formation of broad and complex tight junctions between adjacent podocytes. This dedifferentiation was also associated with dose- and time-dependent reduction in the expression of glomerular epithelial markers (nephrin, p-cadherin, zonnula occludens-1) and increased expression of mesenchymal markers (α−smooth muscle actin, vimentin, nestin), matrix components (fibronectin, collagen I, and collagen IV α3), cellular proliferation, and apoptosis. The induction of diabetes in mice was also associated with similar changes in morphology, protein expression, and proliferation in glomerular podocytes.
In response to TGF-β and other TGF-dependent stimuli, mature podocytes undergo dedifferentiation that leads to effacement of foot processes, morphologic flattening, and increased formation of intercellular tight junctions. This simplification of their phenotype to a more embryonic form is also associated with reentry of mature podocytes into the cell cycle, which results in enhanced proliferation and apoptosis. These “pathoadaptive” changes are seen early in the diabetic glomerulus and ultimately contribute to albuminuria, glomerulosclerosis, and podocytopenia.
PMCID: PMC3114395  PMID: 21521871
22.  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
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.  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
25.  The molecular and functional phenotype of glomerular podocytes reveals key features of contractile smooth muscle cells 
The glomerular podocyte is a highly specialized cell, with the ability to ultrafilter blood and support glomerular capillary pressures. However, little is known about either the genetic programs leading to this functionality or the final phenotype. We approached this question utilizing a human conditionally immortalized cell line, which differentiates from a proliferating epithelial phenotype to a differentiated form. We profiled gene expression during several time points during differentiation and grouped the regulated genes into major functional categories. A novel category of genes that was upregulated during differentiation was of smooth muscle-related molecules. We further examined the smooth muscle phenotype and showed that podocytes consistently express the differentiated smooth muscle markers smoothelin and calponin and the specific transcription factor myocardin, both in vitro and in vivo. The contractile contribution of the podocyte to the glomerular capillary is controversial. We demonstrated using two novel techniques that podocytes contract vigorously in vitro when differentiated and in real time were able to demonstrate that angiotensin II treatment decreases monolayer resistance, morphologically correlating with enhanced contractility. We conclude that the mature podocyte in vitro possesses functional apparatus of contractile smooth muscle cells, with potential implications for its in vivo ability to regulate glomerular dynamic and permeability characteristics.
PMCID: PMC2576149  PMID: 18684887
mesenchyme; smoothelin; epithelial-mesenchymal transition; differentiation; development

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