Proteinuria is a major marker of the decline of renal function and an important risk factor of coronary heart disease. Elevated proteinuria is associated to the disruption of slit-diaphragm and loss of podocyte foot processes, structural alterations that are considered irreversible. The objective of the present study was to investigate whether proteinuria can be reversed and to identify the structural modifications and the gene/protein regulation associated to this reversal.
We used a novel transgenic strain of mouse (RenTg) that overexpresses renin at a constant high level. At the age of 12-month, RenTg mice showed established lesions typical of chronic renal disease such as peri-vascular and periglomerular inflammation, glomerular ischemia, glomerulosclerosis, mesangial expansion and tubular dilation. Ultrastructural analysis indicated abnormal heterogeneity of basement membrane thickness and disappearance of podocyte foot processes. These structural alterations were accompanied by decreased expressions of proteins specific of podocyte (nephrin, podocin), or tubular epithelial cell (E-cadherin and megalin) integrity. In addition, since TGFβ is considered the major pro-fibrotic agent in renal disease and since exogenous administration of BMP7 is reported to antagonize the TGFβ-induced phenotype changes in kidney, we have screened the expressions of several genes belonging in the TGFβ/BMP superfamily. We found that the endogenous inhibitors of BMPs such as noggin and Usag-1 were several-fold activated inhibiting the action of BMPs and thus reinforcing the deleterious action of TGFβ.Treatment with an AT1 receptor antagonist, at dose that did not decrease arterial pressure, gradually reduced albuminuria. This decrease was accompanied by re-expression of podocin, nephrin, E-cadherin and megalin, and reappearance of podocyte foot processes. In addition, expressions of noggin and Usag-1 were markedly decreased, permitting thus activation of the beneficial action of BMPs.
These findings show that proteinuria and alterations in the expression of proteins involved in the integrity and function of glomerular and renal epithelial phenotype are reversible events when the local action of angiotensin II is blocked, and provide hope that chronic renal disease can be efficiently treated.