Three-dimensional electron microscopy reveals the evolution of glomerular barrier injury

Sci Rep. 2016 Oct 11;6:35068. doi: 10.1038/srep35068.


Glomeruli are highly sophisticated filters and glomerular disease is the leading cause of kidney failure. Morphological change in glomerular podocytes and the underlying basement membrane are frequently observed in disease, irrespective of the underlying molecular etiology. Standard electron microscopy techniques have enabled the identification and classification of glomerular diseases based on two-dimensional information, however complex three-dimensional ultrastructural relationships between cells and their extracellular matrix cannot be easily resolved with this approach. We employed serial block face-scanning electron microscopy to investigate Alport syndrome, the commonest monogenic glomerular disease, and compared findings to other genetic mouse models of glomerular disease (Myo1e-/-, Ptpro-/-). These analyses revealed the evolution of basement membrane and cellular defects through the progression of glomerular injury. Specifically we identified sub-podocyte expansions of the basement membrane with both cellular and matrix gene defects and found a corresponding reduction in podocyte foot process number. Furthermore, we discovered novel podocyte protrusions invading into the glomerular basement membrane in disease and these occurred frequently in expanded regions of basement membrane. These findings provide new insights into mechanisms of glomerular barrier dysfunction and suggest that common cell-matrix-adhesion pathways are involved in the progression of disease regardless of the primary insult.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Gene Knockout Techniques
  • Glomerular Basement Membrane / diagnostic imaging
  • Humans
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional / methods
  • Kidney Diseases / diagnostic imaging*
  • Kidney Diseases / genetics
  • Mice
  • Microscopy, Electron, Scanning / methods*
  • Myosin Type I
  • Myosins / genetics
  • Nephritis, Hereditary / diagnostic imaging*
  • Nephritis, Hereditary / etiology
  • Receptor-Like Protein Tyrosine Phosphatases, Class 3 / genetics


  • Ptpro protein, mouse
  • Receptor-Like Protein Tyrosine Phosphatases, Class 3
  • Myo1e protein, mouse
  • Myosin Type I
  • Myosins