Background: Glomerular distention is associated with cellular mechanical strain. In addition, glomerular distention/contraction is assumed to influence the filtration rate through changes in filtration surface area. A contractile cytoskeleton in podocytes and mesangial cells, formed by F-actin-containing stress fibers, maintains structural integrity and modulates glomerular expansion. In this study, the glomerular cell distribution of F-actin and vimentin filaments was studied in normal control and nine-month streptozotocin-diabetic rats. Results in situ were compared with observations in tissue culture.
Methods: Microdissected rat glomeruli were perfused to obtain a physiological 25% glomerular expansion over the basal value. Fixation was done without change in glomerular volume. Dual fluorescent labeling of F-actin and vimentin was carried out, and samples were examined by confocal laser scanning microscopy.
Results: The podocyte cell bodies and their cytoplasmic projections, including the foot processes, contained bundles of vimentin-containing fibers. Except for a thin layer at the base of foot processes, they did not demonstrate F-actin. While mesangial cells in culture had F-actin as long stress fibers resembling tense cables, mesangial cells stretched in situ contained a maze of short tortuous F-actin fibers organized in bundles that often encircled vascular spaces. This fibrillar organization was disrupted in diabetic glomeruli.
Conclusion: Mesangial cells, but not podocytes, contain a cytoskeleton capable of contraction that is disorganized in long-term diabetes. Together with previous observations, the distribution of this cytoskeleton suggests that mesangial cell contraction may be involved in the redistribution of glomerular capillary blood flow, but not substantially in the modulation of glomerular distention. Disorganization of stress fibers may be a cause of hyperfiltration in diabetes.