The discovery of nephrin in 1998 has launched a new era in glomerular diseases research, emphasizing its crucial role in the structure and function of the glomerular filtration barrier. In the past 20 years, substantial advances have been made in understanding podocyte structure and function as well as the discovery of several podocyte-related proteins including nephrin. The glomerular filtration barrier is comprised of podocytes, the glomerular basement membrane and endothelial cells. Podocytes, with their specialized slit diaphragm, form the essential backbone of the glomerular filtration barrier. Nephrin is a crucial structural and functional feature of the slit diaphragm that prevents plasma protein, blood cell and macromolecule leakage into the urine. Podocyte damage results in nephrin release. Podocytopathies are kidney diseases in which podocyte damage drives proteinuria, i.e., nephrotic syndrome. Many kidney diseases involve podocytopathy including congenital nephrotic syndrome of Finnish type, diffuse mesangial sclerosis, minimal change disease, focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, collapsing glomerulonephropathy, diabetic nephropathy, lupus nephropathy, hypertensive nephropathy and preeclampsia. Recently, urinary nephrin measurement has become important in the early detection of podocytopathies. In this chapter, we elaborate the main structural and functional features of nephrin as a podocyte-specific protein, pathomechanisms of podocytopathies which result in nephrinuria, highlight the most commonly used methods for detecting urinary nephrin and investigate the diagnostic, prognostic and potential therapeutic relevance of urinary nephrin in primary and secondary proteinuric kidney diseases.
Keywords: Kidney diseases; Nephrin; Podocytes; Podocytopathies; Proteinuria.
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