Single-cell RNA-sequence analysis of mouse glomerular mesangial cells uncovers mesangial cell essential genes

Kidney Int. 2017 Aug;92(2):504-513. doi: 10.1016/j.kint.2017.01.016. Epub 2017 Mar 18.


Mesangial cells are essential for the structure and function of glomeruli, but the mechanisms underlying these roles are not well understood. Here, we performed a single-cell RNA-sequence (RNA-seq) analysis of mouse mesangial cells using the Fluidigm C1 platform. We found that gene expression in individual mesangial cells was tremendously heterogeneous, with mean correlation coefficients of 0.20, and most mesangial genes were actually expressed in only a portion of mesangial cells and are therefore presumably dispensable. In contrast, 1,045 genes were expressed in every single mesangial cell and were considered mesangial cell essential genes. A gene ontology analysis revealed a significant enrichment of genes associated with the endothelium, supporting the inference that mesangial cells function as pericytes. Among 58 endothelium-associated genes, 18 encode proteins that are secreted and may be directly involved in endothelial homeostasis. Importantly, 11 (Angpt2, Anxa5, Axl, Ecm1, Eng, Fn1, Mfge8, Msn, Nrp1, Serpine2, and Sparc) were upregulated, while 2 (Apoe and Fgf1) were downregulated in various glomerulopathies. The enrichment of genes associated with other reported functions of mesangial cells was also found. Furthermore, we identified 173 genes specifically expressed in every mesangial cell in glomeruli from the mesangial cell essential gene list. Finally, based on single mesangial cell RNA-seq results, we found that commonly used glomerular cell type markers, including Fhl2, Igfbp5, Wt1, Tek/Tie2, Kdr/Flk1, Flt1/Vegfr1, and Cd34, are actually not specific. Thus, single mesangial cell RNA-seq analysis has provided insights into the functions and underlying mechanisms of mesangial cells.

Keywords: endothelium; gene expression; mesangial cell; single-cell RNA-seq.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Ontology
  • Male
  • Mesangial Cells / metabolism*
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Sequence Analysis, RNA
  • Single-Cell Analysis
  • Transcriptome