Sirolimus reduces vasculopathy but exacerbates proteinuria in association with inhibition of VEGF and VEGFR in a rat kidney model of chronic allograft dysfunction

Nephrol Dial Transplant. 2013 Feb;28(2):327-36. doi: 10.1093/ndt/gfs453. Epub 2012 Dec 9.


Background: Use of the mTOR inhibitor (mTORi) sirolimus to replace calcineurin inhibitors in kidney transplantation has been associated with improved renal function but, in a proportion of cases, also with de novo or exacerbated proteinuria. Experimental deficiency of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) induces proteinuria and mTOR is required for VEGF production and signalling. We therefore explored the impact of sirolimus on the development of chronic allograft dysfunction (CAD) in the rat, with a focus on VEGF biology.

Methods: Lewis rats received F344 kidney allografts and were treated with 24 weeks of cyclosporine or sirolimus. Controls included allografts treated with cyclosporine for 10 days only and isografts treated with cyclosporine or sirolimus for 24 weeks. Kidney injury (proteinuria and histology) and expression of VEGF and VEGF-receptor (VEGFR; immunohistochemistry, laser capture micro-dissection and quantitative RT-PCR) were assessed.

Results: Allograft controls developed proteinuria, tubulointerstitial fibrosis and atrophy, glomerulosclerosis, vasculopathy and leucocyte accumulation. Proteinuria was significantly reduced in both treatment groups but significantly more in cyclosporine treated animals. Tubulointerstitial damage, glomerulosclerosis and leucocyte accumulation were significantly attenuated in both treatment groups; however, vasculopathy was reduced only by sirolimus. Significantly diminished expression of VEGF and VEGFR mRNA and protein was evident in the sirolimus group. In vitro, sirolimus reduced VEGF production by podocytes (P < 0.05) and inhibited VEGF-induced proliferation of podocytes, endothelial and mesangial cells.

Conclusions: Cyclosporine and sirolimus retard development of CAD in this rat model. Sirolimus exhibits greater protection against vasculopathy but induces proteinuria; effects are likely to be related to inhibition of VEGF signalling.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cyclosporine / adverse effects
  • Cyclosporine / pharmacology
  • Cyclosporine / therapeutic use
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / adverse effects
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / pharmacology
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / therapeutic use*
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Kidney Transplantation / physiology*
  • Male
  • Podocytes / drug effects
  • Podocytes / metabolism
  • Proteinuria / chemically induced*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred F344
  • Rats, Inbred Lew
  • Receptors, Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Receptors, Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor / drug effects
  • Receptors, Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Sirolimus / adverse effects
  • Sirolimus / pharmacology
  • Sirolimus / therapeutic use*
  • Transplantation, Homologous
  • Vascular Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A / drug effects
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A / metabolism


  • Immunosuppressive Agents
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A
  • Cyclosporine
  • Receptors, Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor
  • Sirolimus