Background: Ezrin belongs to a family of plasma membrane-cytoskeleton linking, actin binding proteins (Ezrin-radixin-Moesin family) involved in signal transduction, growth control, cell-cell adhesion, and microvilli formation.
Methods: The expression of ezrin was examined in glomerular cells in culture, during kidney development, in the mature kidney, and in five different experimental kidney disease models in the rat.
Results: Ezrin was specifically expressed in glomerular epithelial cells in developing glomeruli in mature glomeruli and in glomerular epithelial cells in culture. Distinct from its other family members, moesin and radixin, which are predominantly expressed in glomerular endothelial and mesangial areas, ezrin protein (by immunohistochemistry) was specifically and exclusively modulated during podocyte injury and regeneration. Ezrin immunohistochemistry was able to visualize cell body attenuation, pseudocysts, and in particular vacuolation of injured podocytes, a feature that usually has to be identified at the ultrastructural level, and was strikingly increased in binucleated podocytes or podocytes that were partially or completely detached from the underlying GBM (frequently also binucleated). Infiltrating macrophages also express ezrin, but can easily be differentiated from podocytes by their round shape and higher level of expression.
Conclusions: Ezrin likely has a role in the cytoskeletal organization, such as reassembling of acting filaments accompanying podocyte injury and regeneration. Since suitable light microscopic markers for the identification of glomerular epithelial cells are rare, ezrin may also be a useful marker for podocytes in normal and injured glomeruli.