In recent years, it has become apparent that parietal epithelial cells (PECs) play an important role within the renal glomerulus, in particular in diseased conditions. In this review, we examine current knowledge about the role of PECs and their interactions with podocytes in development and under physiological conditions. A particular focus is on the crucial role of PECs and podocytes in two major glomerular disease entities. In rapidly progressive glomerulonephritis, PECs and podocytes proliferate and obstruct the tubular outlet, resulting in loss of the affected nephron. In focal and segmental glomerulosclerosis, PECs become activated and invade a segment of the glomerular tuft via an adhesion. From this entry site, activated PECs displace podocytes and deposit matrix. Thus, activated PECs are involved in inflammatory as well as degenerative glomerular diseases, which both can lead to irreversible loss of renal function.
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