Comprehensive Search for Novel Circulating miRNAs and Axon Guidance Pathway Proteins Associated with Risk of ESKD in Diabetes

J Am Soc Nephrol. 2021 Sep;32(9):2331-2351. doi: 10.1681/ASN.2021010105. Epub 2021 Jun 17.


Background: Mechanisms underlying the pro gression of diabetic kidney disease to ESKD are not fully understood.

Methods: We performed global microRNA (miRNA) analysis on plasma from two cohorts consisting of 375 individuals with type 1 and type 2 diabetes with late diabetic kidney disease, and targeted proteomics analysis on plasma from four cohorts consisting of 746 individuals with late and early diabetic kidney disease. We examined structural lesions in kidney biopsy specimens from the 105 individuals with early diabetic kidney disease. Human umbilical vein endothelial cells were used to assess the effects of miRNA mimics or inhibitors on regulation of candidate proteins.

Results: In the late diabetic kidney disease cohorts, we identified 17 circulating miRNAs, represented by four exemplars (miR-1287-5p, miR-197-5p, miR-339-5p, and miR-328-3p), that were strongly associated with 10-year risk of ESKD. These miRNAs targeted proteins in the axon guidance pathway. Circulating levels of six of these proteins-most notably, EFNA4 and EPHA2-were strongly associated with 10-year risk of ESKD in all cohorts. Furthermore, circulating levels of these proteins correlated with severity of structural lesions in kidney biopsy specimens. In contrast, expression levels of genes encoding these proteins had no apparent effects on the lesions. In in vitro experiments, mimics of miR-1287-5p and miR-197-5p and inhibitors of miR-339-5p and miR-328-3p upregulated concentrations of EPHA2 in either cell lysate, supernatant, or both.

Conclusions: This study reveals novel mechanisms involved in progression to ESKD and points to the importance of systemic factors in the development of diabetic kidney disease. Some circulating miRNAs and axon guidance pathway proteins represent potential targets for new therapies to prevent and treat this condition.

Keywords: chronic kidney disease; diabetic nephropathy; end stage kidney disease; progression of renal failure.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Axon Guidance / physiology*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / blood*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / complications
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / blood*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / complications
  • Diabetic Nephropathies / blood
  • Diabetic Nephropathies / etiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / blood
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / etiology*
  • Male
  • MicroRNAs / blood*
  • Middle Aged


  • MicroRNAs