Background: The involvement of mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) in human diabetic nephropathy has not been fully investigated.
Methods: The presence of cells positive for the phosphorylated MAPK family (phosphorylated extracellular signal-regulated kinase [p-ERK], phosphorylated p38MAPK [p-p38MAPK]) was investigated immunohistochemically in kidneys of 30 patients with diabetic nephropathy. In addition, 10 patients with minimal change nephrotic syndrome, 10 patients with thin basement membrane disease, and 5 patients with benign nephrosclerosis were studied as disease controls. The presence of activated nuclear factor-kappaB (p65)-positive cells also was evaluated in kidney specimens.
Results: In patients with diabetic nephropathy, p-ERK, p-p38MAPK, and p65 were observed in mesangial cells, endothelial cells, podocytes, tubular epithelial cells, and mononuclear infiltrates in interstitium. Numbers of p-ERK-, p-p38MAPK-, and p65-positive cells in both glomeruli and interstitium in patients with diabetic nephropathy were higher than those in controls. In particular, the number of glomerular p-ERK-positive cells in patients with diabetic nephropathy increased in accordance with the progression of glomerular lesions and correlated well with the number of glomerular p65-positive cells (r = 0.654; P < 0.01; n = 30). Conversely, the number of p-p38MAPK-positive cells in glomeruli did not correlate with glomerular lesions. However, the number of tubulointerstitial p-p38MAPK-positive cells in patients with diabetic nephropathy reflected the severity of tubulointerstitial lesions, and numbers of those in the interstitium increased with good correlation to numbers of tubulointerstitial p65-positive cells (r = 0.757; P < 0.01; n = 30) and interstitial CD68-positive macrophages (r = 0.647; P < 0.05; n = 30) and urinary monocyte chemoattractant protein-1 levels (r = 0.605; P < 0.05; n = 30).
Conclusion: These results suggest that MAPK phosphorylation contributes to human diabetic nephropathy. In particular, ERK and p38MAPK may be distinctly involved in glomerular and tubulointerstitial lesions in human diabetic nephropathy.