Urinary FABP1 is a biomarker for impaired proximal tubular protein reabsorption and is synergistically enhanced by concurrent liver injury

J Pathol. 2021 Dec;255(4):362-373. doi: 10.1002/path.5775. Epub 2021 Sep 1.


Urinary fatty acid binding protein 1 (FABP1, also known as liver-type FABP) has been implicated as a biomarker of acute kidney injury (AKI) in humans. However, the precise biological mechanisms underlying its elevation remain elusive. Here, we show that urinary FABP1 primarily reflects impaired protein reabsorption in proximal tubule epithelial cells (PTECs). Bilateral nephrectomy resulted in a marked increase in serum FABP1 levels, suggesting that the kidney is an essential organ for removing serum FABP1. Injected recombinant FABP1 was filtered through the glomeruli and robustly reabsorbed via the apical membrane of PTECs. Urinary FABP1 was significantly elevated in mice devoid of megalin, a giant endocytic receptor for protein reabsorption. Elevation of urinary FABP1 was also observed in patients with Dent disease, a rare genetic disease characterized by defective megalin function in PTECs. Urinary FABP1 levels were exponentially increased following acetaminophen overdose, with both nephrotoxicity and hepatotoxicity observed. FABP1-deficient mice with liver-specific overexpression of FABP1 showed a massive increase in urinary FABP1 levels upon acetaminophen injection, indicating that urinary FABP1 is liver-derived. Lastly, we employed transgenic mice expressing diphtheria toxin receptor (DT-R) either in a hepatocyte- or in a PTEC-specific manner, or both. Upon administration of diphtheria toxin (DT), massive excretion of urinary FABP1 was induced in mice with both kidney and liver injury, while mice with either injury type showed marginal excretion. Collectively, our data demonstrated that intact PTECs have a considerable capacity to reabsorb liver-derived FABP1 through a megalin-mediated mechanism. Thus, urinary FABP1, which is synergistically enhanced by concurrent liver injury, is a biomarker for impaired protein reabsorption in AKI. These findings address the use of urinary FABP1 as a biomarker of histologically injured PTECs that secrete FABP1 into primary urine, and suggest the use of this biomarker to simultaneously monitor impaired tubular reabsorption and liver function. © 2021 The Authors. The Journal of Pathology published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. on behalf of The Pathological Society of Great Britain and Ireland.

Keywords: Dent disease; acute kidney injury; liver injury; megalin; protein reabsorption; proximal tubule epithelial cells; urinary FABP1.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acute Kidney Injury*
  • Animals
  • Biomarkers / urine*
  • Fatty Acid-Binding Proteins / urine*
  • Humans
  • Liver Diseases*
  • Mice


  • Biomarkers
  • Fatty Acid-Binding Proteins