Glomerular visceral epithelial cells (podocytes) are highly specialized cells found in the vertebrate and invertebrate kidney and make up a major portion of the filtration barrier between blood and urinary spaces. During development, specification and differentiation of the podocyte lineage must be tightly orchestrated to produce highly specialized characteristics such as foot processes and slit diaphragms. Furthermore, podocytes are poised to direct incoming endothelial and mesangial cells during glomerular development. They express a number of growth factors that likely play a major role in these processes. Recent findings from transgenic and knockout mouse models and the identification of genes responsible for human podocyte disease have provided insight into transcriptional regulation of some of these processes. These transcription factors include Pax2, WT1 (the Wilms tumor suppressor gene), Pod1 (capsulin, epicardin), Kreisler (maf-1), lmx1b, and mf2. Furthermore, regulatory regions from a podocyte-restricted gene, NPHS1 (nephrin) that are required to direct podocyte-specific expression have been identified from both human and murine genes and provide a tool to further dissect the transcriptional regulation of podocyte-specific gene expression. This article reviews the present state of knowledge regarding transcriptional regulation of podocyte specification and differentiation.
Copyright 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.