Advanced optical imaging reveals preferred spatial orientation of podocyte processes along the axis of glomerular capillaries

Kidney Int. 2023 Dec;104(6):1164-1169. doi: 10.1016/j.kint.2023.08.024. Epub 2023 Sep 27.


Mammalian kidneys filter enormous volumes of water and small solutes, a filtration driven by the hydrostatic pressure in glomerular capillaries, which is considerably higher than in most other tissues. Interdigitating cellular processes of podocytes form the slits for fluid filtration connected by the membrane-like slit diaphragm cell junction containing a mechanosensitive ion channel complex and allow filtration while counteracting hydrostatic pressure. Several previous publications speculated that podocyte processes may display a preferable orientation on glomerular capillaries instead of a random distribution. However, for decades, the controversy over spatially oriented filtration slits could not be resolved due to technical limitations of imaging technologies. Here, we used advanced high-resolution, three-dimensional microscopy with high data throughput to assess spatial orientation of podocyte processes and filtration slits quantitatively. Filtration-slit-generating secondary processes preferentially align along the capillaries' longitudinal axis while primary processes are preferably perpendicular to the longitudinal direction. This preferential orientation required maturation in development of the mice but was lost in mice with kidney disease due to treatment with nephrotoxic serum or with underlying heterologous mutations in the podocyte foot process protein podocin. Thus, the observation that podocytes maintain a preferred spatial orientation of their processes on glomerular capillaries goes well in line with the role of podocyte foot processes as mechanical buttresses to counteract mechanical forces resulting from pressurized capillaries. Future studies are needed to establish how podocytes establish and maintain their orientation and why orientation is lost under pathological conditions.

Keywords: glomerulus; podocyte; ultrafiltration.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Capillaries
  • Kidney Glomerulus
  • Mammals
  • Mice
  • Orientation, Spatial
  • Podocytes*
  • Renal Artery