Background: Diabetic nephropathy is the leading cause of end stage renal disease. All three cell types of the glomerulus, podocytes, endothelial cells and mesangial cells, play important roles in diabetic nephropathy. In this report we used Meis1-GFP transgenic mice to purify mesangial cells from normal mice and from db/db mice, which suffer diabetic nephropathy. The purpose of the study is to better define the unique character of normal mesangial cells, and to characterize their pathogenic and protective responses during diabetic nephropathy.
Methods: Comprehensive gene expression states of the normal and diseased mesangial cells were defined with microarrays. By comparing the gene expression profiles of mesangial cells with those of multiple other renal cell types, including podocytes, endothelial cells and renal vesicles, it was possible to better define their exceptional nature, which includes smooth muscle, phagocytic and neuronal traits.
Results: The complete set of mesangial cell expressed transcription factors, growth factors and receptors were identified. In addition, the analysis of the mesangial cells from diabetic nephropathy mice characterized their changes in gene expression. Molecular functions and biological processes specific to diseased mesangial cells were characterized, identifying genes involved in extracellular matrix, cell division, vasculogenesis, and growth factor modulation. Selected gene changes considered of particular importance to the disease process were validated and localized within the glomuerulus by immunostaining. For example, thrombospondin, a key mediator of TGFβ signaling, was upregulated in the diabetic nephropathy mesangial cells, likely contributing to fibrosis. On the other hand the decorin gene was also upregulated, and expression of this gene has been strongly implicated in the reduction of TGFβ induced fibrosis.
Conclusions: The results provide an important complement to previous studies examining mesangial cells grown in culture. The remarkable qualities of the mesangial cell are more fully defined in both the normal and diabetic nephropathy diseased state. New gene expression changes and biological pathways are discovered, yielding a deeper understanding of the diabetic nephropathy pathogenic process, and identifying candidate targets for the development of novel therapies.