Background: The slit diaphragm plays a critical role in maintaining the barrier function of the glomerular capillary wall. The pathogenic mechanism of proteinuria in membranous nephropathy remains uncertain. This study was undertaken to analyze the pathogenic role of slit diaphragm in proteinuria in experimental membranous nephropathy.
Methods: The expression and the localization of slit diaphragm-associated molecules (nephrin, podocin, and CD2AP) and other podocyte-associated molecules (podocalyxin and alpha(3) integrin) in passive and active Heymann nephritis were analyzed by immunofluorescence and Western blot analysis. The interaction of slit diaphragm-associated molecules was investigated by the dual-labeling immunofluorescence method. The mRNA expression of these molecules was also analyzed.
Results: Shifts in nephrin and podocin staining patterns, from linear to granular, were detected in the early stages of passive Heymann nephritis. These shifts were not parallel, and the dissociation of these molecules was detected by the dual-labeling immunofluorescence method in passive and active Heymann nephritis. Western blot analyses with sequentially solubilized materials indicated that the nephrin-rich fraction changed from being partly detergent-resistant to being predominantly detergent-soluble. This change did not occur with podocin. Nephrin excreted into urine was already detected in the early stages of passive Heymann nephritis. Decreased mRNA expression of nephrin and podocin was observed before the onset of proteinuria. By contrast, no extensive change in the expression of alpha(3) integrin was observed in this study.
Conclusion: Nephrin is dissociated from podocin and excreted into urine in the early stages of Heymann nephritis. The reduced expression of nephrin and podocin, along with their dissociation, may contribute to the development of proteinuria in Heymann nephritis.