Podocyte injury is an early event in diabetic kidney disease and is a hallmark of glomerulopathy. MicroRNA-146a (miR-146a) is highly expressed in many cell types under homeostatic conditions, and plays an important anti-inflammatory role in myeloid cells. However, its role in podocytes is unclear. Here, we show that miR-146a expression levels decrease in the glomeruli of patients with type 2 diabetes (T2D), which correlates with increased albuminuria and glomerular damage. miR-146a levels are also significantly reduced in the glomeruli of albuminuric BTBR ob/ob mice, indicating its significant role in maintaining podocyte health. miR-146a-deficient mice (miR-146a-/-) showed accelerated development of glomerulopathy and albuminuria upon streptozotocin (STZ)-induced hyperglycemia. The miR-146a targets, Notch-1 and ErbB4, were also significantly up-regulated in the glomeruli of diabetic patients and mice, suggesting induction of the downstream TGFβ signaling. Treatment with a pan-ErbB kinase inhibitor erlotinib with nanomolar activity against ErbB4 significantly suppressed diabetic glomerular injury and albuminuria in both WT and miR-146a-/- animals. Treatment of podocytes in vitro with TGF-β1 resulted in increased expression of Notch-1, ErbB4, pErbB4, and pEGFR, the heterodimerization partner of ErbB4, suggesting increased ErbB4/EGFR signaling. TGF-β1 also increased levels of inflammatory cytokine monocyte chemoattractant protein-1 (MCP-1) and MCP-1 induced protein-1 (MCPIP1), a suppressor of miR-146a, suggesting an autocrine loop. Inhibition of ErbB4/EGFR with erlotinib co-treatment of podocytes suppressed this signaling. Our findings suggest a novel role for miR-146a in protecting against diabetic glomerulopathy and podocyte injury. They also point to ErbB4/EGFR as a novel, druggable target for therapeutic intervention, especially because several pan-ErbB inhibitors are clinically available.
Keywords: Type 1 diabetes; diabetic glomerulopathy; diabetic nephropathy; kidney; microRNA (miRNA); mir-146a; podocyte.
© 2017 by The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Inc.