Background: The cellular mediators of progressive renal fibrosis in diabetic nephropathy remain unknown. Myofibroblasts have been implicated in the pathogenesis of experimental and clinical renal fibrosis. Their role in the progression of diabetic nephropathy is the subject of this study.
Subjects and methods: We have studied by immuno-histochemistry the expression of cytoskeletal proteins associated with the activation of myofibroblasts; alpha-smooth-muscle actin (alpha-SMA), vimentin (Vi) and desmin (D), in the kidneys of 25 patients with diabetic nephropathy (5 patients had a superimposed glomerulonephritis). Comparisons were made with normal tissue from three kidneys removed for renal-cell carcinoma. Correlations were studied between clinical and biochemical parameters with the expression of renal cytoskeletal proteins.
Results: In normal kidneys, cells expressing alpha-SMA were confined to the vascular media and adventitia while immunoreactive Vi was detected in glomerular epithelial cells. In diabetic kidneys, cells expressing alpha-SMA were detected primarily in the renal interstitium and to a lesser extent in some glomeruli in association with mesangial proliferation. Vimentin immunostain decreased in glomeruli displaying diabetic hyalinosis and sclerosis. By contrast, strong Vi immunoreactivity was noted in atrophic diabetic tubules and to a lesser extent in the interstitium. Desmin was not detected in either normal or diabetic kidneys. Close correlations were observed between the expression of renal cytoskeletal proteins and the progression of renal insufficiency. Interstitial alpha-SMA proved to be a predictor of progressive diabetic nephropathy (R2 for 1/serum Cr slope = 0.608, P = 0.00001). This predictive value was superior to, and independent from, that of the best conventional histological predictive parameters; tubular atrophy (R2 = 0.477, P = 0.00004) and interstitial fibrosis (R2 = 0.28, P = 0.001).
Conclusion: We have demonstrated in this study the neoexpression of cytoskeletal proteins within diabetic kidneys. This has allowed the identification of new predicting histological markers for the progression of diabetic nephropathy.