Regeneration of Podocyte Cells Offers Hope for Kidney Patients

Researchers at Stanford School of Medicine have discovered that the podocyte cells that make up the kidney filter membrane may be able to regenerate during normal kidney function. Scientists have long believed that these cells, which suffer damage in more than 90 percent of chronic kidney diseases, such as FSGS and diabetic nephropathy, could not renew themselves. Researcher Steven Artandi, M.D., Ph.D., said, “It used to be thought that you were born with podocytes, and died with the same podocytes—you don’t make any more during your lifetime.”

In this study, Artandi and fellow scientists found that the over-expression of TERT, a protein component of the enzyme telomerase, causes podocytes to de-differentiate and divide, and the glomeruli to collapse as a result. A similar scenario occurs in patients with HIV-associated nephropathy or HIVAN. Interestingly, examination of the glomeruli of HIVAN patients revealed increased expression of TERT. Experiments in lab mice showed that increasing the expression of TERT produced the same result as in humans; once over-expression ceased, the cells stopped dividing and began acting like specialized podocyte cells again. The researchers also found that the Wnt signaling pathway is activated in patients with HIVAN. Wnt proteins are important to embryonic development and cell differentiation. The scientists were able to block Wnt signaling in mice with HIVAN to stop podocyte division and improve function. They now hope to discover if podocyte regeneration occurs during healthy kidney function. Dr. Artandi said, “If we can harness this regeneration, we may one day be able to treat people with chronic kidney disease.”


Regeneration of Specialized Cells Offers Hope for Treating Chronic Kidney Disease, Researchers Say, Stanford School of Medicine, December 4, 2011

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