Vascular endothelial growth factor A (VEGFA) secretion from podocytes is crucial for maintaining endothelial integrity within the glomerular filtration barrier. However, until now, the molecular mechanisms underlying podocyte secretory function remained unclear. Through podocyte-specific deletion of BECLIN1 (ATG6 or Becn1), a key protein in autophagy initiation, we identified a major role for this molecule in anterograde Golgi trafficking. The Becn1-deficient podocytes displayed aberrant vesicle formation in the trans-Golgi network (TGN), leading to dramatic vesicle accumulation and complex disrupted patterns of intracellular vesicle trafficking and membrane dynamics. Phenotypically, podocyte-specific deletion of Becn1 resulted in early-onset glomerulosclerosis, which rapidly progressed and dramatically reduced mouse life span. Further, in vivo and in vitro studies clearly showed that VEGFA secretion, and thereby endothelial integrity, greatly depended on BECLIN1 availability and function. Being the first to demonstrate the importance of a secretory pathway for podocyte integrity and function, we identified BECLIN1 as a key component in this complex cellular process. Functionally, by promoting VEGFA secretion, a specific secretory pathway emerged as an essential component for the podocyte-endothelial crosstalk that maintains the glomerular filtration barrier.
Keywords: BECLIN1; Golgi network; VEGF; autophagy; glomerulosclerosis; podocyte; secretory pathway.