Background: Normal human podocytes are terminally differentiated and quiescent cells. It is not known why podocytes fail to proliferate in response to most forms of injury. Proliferation is regulated by cell cycle proteins and their inhibitors. The Cip/Kip family of cyclin-dependent kinase (CDK) inhibitors (p21, p27, p57) in general prevent proliferation by inhibiting cyclin-CDK complexes. In the current study, we determined the expression and possible role of specific CDK inhibitors in podocyte proliferation in human disease characterized by podocyte injury.
Methods: Immunostaining was performed for the CDK inhibitors p21, p27, and p57 and the proliferation marker Ki-67 on renal biopsies from patients with minimal change disease (MCD; N = 6), membranous glomerulopathy (MGN; N = 19), cellular variant of focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS; N = 12), collapsing glomerulopathy (CG; N = 9), and HIV-associated nephropathy (HIVAN; N = 16). Adult nephrectomy specimens without evidence of glomerular disease served as controls (N = 9).
Results: Normal quiescent podocytes express p27 and p57, but not p21. In diseases without podocyte proliferation (MCD, MGN), p21, p27, and p57 expression did not change. In contrast, there was a uniform decrease in p27 and p57 immunostaining in diseases with podocyte proliferation (cellular FSGS, CG, and HIVAN). This was accompanied by the de novo expression of p21 in podocytes.
Conclusions: Our results show that podocyte quiescence may require the presence of the CDK inhibitors p27 and p57. In human glomerular diseases, a decrease in p27 and p57 may be permissive for the altered proliferative podocyte phenotype. p21 may have a multifactorial role in podocyte cell cycle regulation.