Background: Renal podocytes form the main filtration barrier possessing a unique phenotype maintained by proteins including podocalyxin and nephrin, the expression of which is suppressed in pathological conditions. We used an in vitro model of human glomerular epithelial cells (HGEC) to investigate the role of high glucose in dysregulating the podocytic epithelial phenotype and determined the time needed for this change to occur.Results: In our in vitro podocyte system changes indicating podocyte dedifferentiation in the prolonged presence of high glucose included loss of podocalyxin, nephrin and CD10/CALLA concomitant with upregulation of mesenchymal vimentin. Our study demonstrates for the first time that podocyte-specific markers undergo changes of expression at different time intervals, since glucose-mediated podocalyxin downregulation is a progressive process that precedes downregulation of nephrin expression. Finally we demonstrate that high glucose permanently impaired WT1 binding to the podocalyxin gene promoter region but did not affect WT1 binding on the nephrin gene promoter region.Conclusion: The presence of high glucose induced a phenotypic conversion of podocytes resembling partial dedifferentiation. Our study demonstrates that dysregulation of the normal podocytic phenotype is an event differentially affecting the expression of function-specific podocytic markers, exhibiting downregulation of the epithelial marker CD10/CALLA and PC first, followed by stably downregulated nephrin. Furthermore, it is herein suggested that WT1 may not be directly involved with upregulation of previously reduced PC and nephrin expression.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
The authors wish to thank Dr. P. Kitsiou for helpful suggestions. This work was partly supported by a grant from the Greek Secretariat for Research and Development (EXCELLENCE: 164) and by funds from NCSR “Demokritos”.