Nephrin Preserves Podocyte Viability and Glomerular Structure and Function in Adult Kidneys

J Am Soc Nephrol. 2015 Oct;26(10):2361-77. doi: 10.1681/ASN.2014040405. Epub 2015 Feb 2.


Nephrin is required during kidney development for the maturation of podocytes and formation of the slit diaphragm junctional complex. Because nephrin expression is downregulated in acquired glomerular diseases, nephrin deficiency is considered a pathologic feature of glomerular injury. However, whether nephrin deficiency exacerbates glomerular injury in glomerular diseases has not been experimentally confirmed. Here, we generated mice with inducible RNA interference-mediated nephrin knockdown. Short-term nephrin knockdown (6 weeks), starting after the completion of kidney development at 5 weeks of age, did not affect glomerular structure or function. In contrast, mice with long-term nephrin knockdown (20 weeks) developed mild proteinuria, foot process effacement, filtration slit narrowing, mesangial hypercellularity and sclerosis, glomerular basement membrane thickening, subendothelial zone widening, and podocyte apoptosis. When subjected to an acquired glomerular insult induced by unilateral nephrectomy or doxorubicin, mice with short-term nephrin knockdown developed more severe glomerular injury compared with mice without nephrin knockdown. Additionally, nephrin-knockdown mice developed more exaggerated glomerular enlargement when subjected to unilateral nephrectomy and more podocyte apoptosis and depletion after doxorubicin challenge. AKT phosphorylation, which is a slit diaphragm-mediated and nephrin-dependent pathway in the podocyte, was markedly reduced in mice with long-term or short-term nephrin knockdown challenged with uninephrectomy or doxorubicin. Taken together, our data establish that under the basal condition and in acquired glomerular diseases, nephrin is required to maintain slit diaphragm integrity and slit diaphragm-mediated signaling to preserve glomerular function and podocyte viability in adult mice.

Keywords: animal model; glomerulopathy; kidney disease; nephrin; podocyte; slit diaphragm.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Animals
  • Cell Survival
  • Kidney Glomerulus / anatomy & histology*
  • Kidney Glomerulus / physiology*
  • Male
  • Membrane Proteins / genetics
  • Membrane Proteins / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Podocytes / cytology*
  • Podocytes / physiology*


  • Membrane Proteins
  • nephrin