Background: Podocyte loss contributes to the development of glomerulosclerosis. Although podocytes have been detected in the urine in certain glomerular diseases, the viability of detached cells is not known.
Methods: Urine was collected from rats with experimental membranous nephropathy [passive Heymann nephritis (PHN) model], centrifuged, and following resuspension in tissue culture media, cells were seeded onto collagen-coated tissue culture plates. Cells were grown under typical cell culture conditions. Cell number was measured, the cell type was identified by immunostaining with specific antibodies, and cell morphology was assessed by light and electron microscopy.
Results: Cells obtained in the urine from PHN rats were positive for synaptopodin, nephrin, podocin, WT-1, and GLEPP1 (podocyte-specific antigens). When grown ex vivo under cell culture conditions, cells obtained in the urine from PHN rats adhered to tissue culture plates, and expressed podocyte-specific proteins at the mRNA [reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR)] and protein (immunostaining) level. Cells did not stain with antibodies to mesangial (OX-7), tubular (Tamm-Horsfall protein) and endothelial (RECA) cells. Electron microscopy showed the presence of foot processes, and podocytes from PHN rats stained positive for C5b-9. Although podocyte number increased transiently during the first 5 days ex vivo, apoptosis increased significantly thereafter, reducing overall cell number.
Conclusion: Rats with experimental membranous nephropathy shed podocytes into the urine that attach to tissue culture plates ex-vivo, and proliferate. These results suggest that detached podocytes are viable. These results add new perspectives into our understanding of podocyte loss in the development of glomerulosclerosis.