Nephrin promotes cell-cell adhesion through homophilic interactions

Am J Pathol. 2003 Dec;163(6):2337-46. doi: 10.1016/S0002-9440(10)63590-0.


Nephrin is a type-1 transmembrane protein and a key component of the podocyte slit diaphragm, the ultimate glomerular plasma filter. Genetic and acquired diseases affecting expression or function of nephrin lead to severe proteinuria and distortion or absence of the slit diaphragm. Here, we showed by using a surface plasmon resonance biosensor that soluble recombinant variants of nephrin, containing the extracellular part of the protein, interact with each other in a specific and concentration-dependent manner. This molecular interaction was increased by twofold in the presence of physiological Ca(2+)concentration, indicating that the binding is not dependent on, but rather promoted by Ca(2+). Furthermore, transfected HEK293 cells and an immortalized mouse podocyte cell line overexpressing full-length human nephrin formed cellular aggregates, with cell-cell contacts staining strongly for nephrin. The distance between plasma membranes at the nephrin-containing contact sites was shown by electron microscopy to be 40 to 50 nm, similar to the width of glomerular slit diaphragm. The cell contacts could be dissociated with antibodies reacting with the first two extracellular Ig-like domains of nephrin. Wild-type HEK293 cells were shown to express slit diaphragm components CD2AP, P-cadherin, FAT, and NEPH1. The results show that nephrin molecules exhibit homophilic interactions that could promote cellular contacts through direct nephrin-nephrin interactions, and that the other slit diaphragm components expressed could contribute to that interaction.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Adhesion / physiology
  • Cell Communication / physiology*
  • Cell Line
  • Genetic Variation
  • Humans
  • Kidney / cytology
  • Kidney / metabolism
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Mice
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary / physiology
  • Proteins / chemistry
  • Proteins / genetics
  • Proteins / metabolism
  • Proteins / physiology*
  • Recombination, Genetic
  • Solubility


  • Membrane Proteins
  • Proteins
  • nephrin