Functional symbiosis between endothelium and epithelial cells in glomeruli

Cell Tissue Res. 2008 Feb;331(2):485-93. doi: 10.1007/s00441-007-0526-z. Epub 2007 Nov 13.


In some capillary beds, pericytes regulate endothelial growth. Capillaries with high filtration capacity, such as those in renal glomeruli, lack pericytes. Glomerular endothelium lies adjacent to visceral epithelial cells (podocytes) that are anchored to and cover the anti-luminal surface of the basement membrane. We have tested the hypothesis that podocytes can function as endothelial supporting cells. Endothelial cells were outgrown from circulating endothelial progenitors of normal subjects and were extensively characterized. These blood outgrowth endothelial cells (BOECs) expressed endothelial markers, lacked stem cell markers, and expressed the angiopoietin-1 receptor, Tie-2, and the vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) receptor, Flk-1. Differentiated podocytes in culture expressed and secreted VEGF, which was upregulated 4.5-fold by high glucose. In complete medium, BOECs formed thin cell-cell connections and multicellular tubes on Matrigel, the in vitro correlate of angiogenesis. This was impaired in deficient media but rescued by co-incubation with Transwell Anopore inserts containing differentiated podocytes. To assess whether VEGF was the major podocyte-derived signal that rescued BOEC angiogenesis, we examined angiogenesis of control and Flk-1-deficient BOECs. Co-incubation with podocytes or addition of recombinant VEGF each rescued angiogenesis in control BOECs, but both failed to support maintenance and angiogenesis in Flk-1-deficient BOECs. Finally, co-culture with podocytes increased BOEC-proliferation. In concert, these findings suggest a model in which glomerular visceral epithelial cells function as pericyte-like endothelial supporting cells. Podocyte-derived VEGF is a required and sufficient regulator of vascular endothelial maintenance, and its upregulation in podocytes by high glucose may be the mechanism for the increased glomerular angiogenesis that is observed in vivo in early diabetic glomerular injury.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Coculture Techniques
  • Endothelial Cells / cytology
  • Endothelial Cells / physiology*
  • Endothelium* / cytology
  • Endothelium* / physiology
  • Glucose / metabolism
  • Kidney Glomerulus / cytology*
  • Mice
  • Podocytes / cytology
  • Podocytes / physiology*
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A / metabolism
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor Receptor-2 / genetics
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor Receptor-2 / metabolism


  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor Receptor-2
  • Glucose