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.