Podocyte autophagy is associated with foot process effacement and proteinuria in patients with minimal change nephrotic syndrome

Ayu Ogawa-Akiyama, Hitoshi Sugiyama, Masashi Kitagawa, Keiko Tanaka, Yuzuki Kano, Koki Mise, Nozomu Ootaka, Katsuyuki Tanabe, Hiroshi Morinaga, Masaru Kinomura, Haruhito A. Uchida, Jun Wada

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


Autophagy is a cellular mechanism involved in the bulk degradation of proteins and turnover of organelle. Several studies have shown the significance of autophagy of the renal tubular epithelium in rodent models of tubulointerstitial disorder. However, the role of autophagy in the regulation of human glomerular diseases is largely unknown. The current study aimed to demonstrate morphological evidence of autophagy and its association with the ultrastructural changes of podocytes and clinical data in patients with idiopathic nephrotic syndrome, a disease in which patients exhibit podocyte injury. The study population included 95 patients, including patients with glomerular disease (minimal change nephrotic syndrome [MCNS], n = 41; idiopathic membranous nephropathy [IMN], n = 37) and 17 control subjects who underwent percutaneous renal biopsy. The number of autophagic vacuoles and the grade of foot process effacement (FPE) in podocytes were examined by electron microscopy (EM). The relationships among the expression of autophagic vacuoles, the grade of FPE, and the clinical data were determined. Autophagic vacuoles were mainly detected in podocytes by EM. The microtubule-associated protein 1 light chain 3 (LC3)-positive area was co-localized with the Wilms tumor 1 (WT1)-positive area on immunofluorescence microscopy, which suggested that autophagy occurred in the podocytes of patients with MCNS. The number of autophagic vacuoles in the podocytes was significantly correlated with the podocyte FPE score (r = -0.443, p = 0.004), the amount of proteinuria (r = 0.334, p = 0.033), and the level of serum albumin (r = -0.317, p = 0.043) in patients with MCNS. The FPE score was a significant determinant for autophagy after adjusting for the age in a multiple regression analysis in MCNS patients (p = 0.0456). However, such correlations were not observed in patients with IMN or in control subjects. In conclusion, the results indicated that the autophagy of podocytes is associated with FPE and severe proteinuria in patients with MCNS. The mechanisms underlying the activation of autophagy in association with FPE in podocytes should be further investigated in order to elucidate the pathophysiology of MCNS.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0228337
JournalPloS one
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General


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