Aims/hypothesis: Inflammation and fibrosis are pathological mechanisms that are partially regulated by cell signalling through the p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathway. Elements of the diabetic milieu such as high glucose and advanced glycation end-products induce activation of this pathway in renal cells. Therefore, we examined whether p38 MAPK signalling is associated with the development of human and experimental diabetic nephropathy.
Methods: Immunostaining identified phosphorylated (active) p38 MAPK in human biopsies with no abnormality ( n=6) and with Type 2 diabetic nephropathy ( n=12). Changes in kidney levels of phosphorylated p38 were assessed by immunostaining and western blotting in mice with streptozotocin-induced Type 1 diabetes that had been killed after 0.5, 2, 3, 4 and 8 months, and in Type 2 diabetic db/db mice at 2, 4, 6 and 8 months of age.
Results: Phosphorylated p38 was detected in some intrinsic cells in normal human kidney, including podocytes, cortical tubules and occasional interstitial cells. Greater numbers of these phosphorylated p38+ cells were observed in diabetic patients, and phosphorylated p38 was identified in accumulating interstitial macrophages and myofibroblasts. A similar pattern of p38 activation was observed in both mouse models of diabetes. In mice, kidney levels of phosphorylated p38 increased (2-6 fold) following the onset of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. In both mouse models, interstitial phosphorylated p38+ cells were associated with hyperglycaemia, increased HbA(1)c levels and albuminuria. Further assessment of streptozotocin-induced diabetic nephropathy showed that interstitial phosphorylated p38+ cells correlated with interstitial fibrosis (myofibroblasts, collagen).
Conclusions/interpretation: Increased p38 MAPK signalling is a feature of human and experimental diabetic nephropathy. Time course studies in mouse models suggest that phosphorylation of p38 plays a pathological role, particularly in the development of interstitial fibrosis.