Podocytes are terminally differentiated cells of the kidney filtration barrier with a limited proliferative capacity and are the primary glomerular target for various sources of cellular stress. Accordingly, it is particularly important for podocytes to cope with stress efficiently to circumvent cell death and avoid compromising renal function. Improperly folded proteins within the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) are associated with increased cellular injury and cell death. To relieve ER stress, protein quality control mechanisms like ER-associated degradation (ERAD) are initiated. Derlin-2 is an important dislocation channel component in the ERAD pathway, having an indispensable role in clearing misfolded glycoproteins from the ER lumen. With studies linking ER stress to kidney disease, we investigated the role of derlin-2 in the susceptibility of podocytes to injury due to protein misfolding. We show that podocytes employ derlin-2 to mediate the ER quality control system to maintain cellular homeostasis in both mouse and human glomeruli. Patients with focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS) or diabetic nephropathy (DN) upregulate derlin-2 expression in response to glomerular injury, as do corresponding mouse models. In derlin-2-deficient podocytes, compensatory responses were lost under adriamycin (ADR)-induced ER dysfunction, and severe cellular injury ensued via a caspase-12-dependent pathway. Moreover, derlin-2 overexpression in vitro attenuated ADR-induced podocyte injury. Thus derlin-2 is part of a protein quality control mechanism that can rescue glomerular injury attributable to impaired protein folding pathways in the ER. Induction of derlin-2 expression in vivo may have applications in prevention and treatment of glomerular diseases.
Keywords: ER stress; derlin-2; glomerular disease; podocyte injury; protein quality control.