Contribution of the endothelium to the glomerular permselectivity barrier in health and disease

Nephron Physiol. 2007;106(2):p19-25. doi: 10.1159/000101796. Epub 2007 Jun 6.


Background: The endothelium that lines glomerular capillaries shares many properties with endothelial cells in general, but unlike most endothelial cells, it is extremely flat and densely perforated by transendothelial cell pores, the fenestrae. Until recently, it was believed that the fenestrae allow free passage of large proteins, and that the glomerular endothelium contributes little to the permselectivity of the glomerular capillary wall.

Methods: Key studies addressing the nature of the glomerular capillary endothelium and its contribution to glomerular permselectivity were reviewed.

Results: Glomerular endothelial cell flattening and fenestrae formation requires signals from differentiated podocytes, and from the glomerular basement membrane. Deletion of VEGF-A from podocytes prevents flattening and fenestration of glomerular endothelium. Application of VEGF-A to endothelial cells in vivo stimulates fenestrae formation, and neutralization of VEGF-A by soluble VEGF receptor 1 (sFlt-1) or anti-VEGF antibodies results in loss of glomerular fenestrae, and proteinuria. Neutralizing TGF-beta1 antibodies, deletion of laminin alpha3 in mice or laminin beta3 in humans cause similar defects. The glomerular endotheliosis lesion of pre-eclampsia is due to the placenta-derived inhibitors sFlt-1 and sEndoglin, which block the VEGF-A/VEGF receptor and TGF-beta/endoglin signaling, respectively, causing the loss of glomerular endothelial cell fenestrae, cell swelling and proteinuria. The glomerular endothelium is covered by a glycocalyx that extends into the fenestrae and by a more loosely associated endothelial cell surface layer of glycoproteins. Mathematical analyses of functional permselectivity studies have concluded that the glomerular endothelial cell glycocalyx and its associated surface layer account for the retention of up to 95% of proteins within the circulation. Furthermore, the fenestrae are critical for the maintenance of the high hydraulic conductivity of the glomerular capillary wall, and their loss results in a reduction in the glomerular filtration rate.

Conclusions: Loss of GFR and proteinuria can result from glomerular endothelial cell injury.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Endothelium / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Kidney Glomerulus / physiopathology*
  • Pre-Eclampsia / physiopathology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Proteinuria / physiopathology*
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A / metabolism*


  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A