The glomerulus exercises its filtration barrier function by establishing a complex filtration apparatus consisting of podocyte foot processes, glomerular basement membrane and endothelial cells. Disruption of any component of the glomerular filtration barrier leads to glomerular dysfunction, frequently manifested as proteinuria. Ultrastructural studies of the glomerulus by transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and conventional scanning electron microscopy (SEM) have been routinely used to identify and classify various glomerular diseases. Here we report the application of newly developed helium ion scanning microscopy (HIM) to examine the glomerulopathy in a Col4a3 mutant/Alport syndrome mouse model. Our study revealed unprecedented details of glomerular abnormalities in Col4a3 mutants including distorted podocyte cell bodies and disorganized primary processes. Strikingly, we observed abundant filamentous microprojections arising from podocyte cell bodies and processes, and presence of unique bridging processes that connect the primary processes and foot processes in Alport mice. Furthermore, we detected an altered glomerular endothelium with disrupted sub-endothelial integrity. More importantly, we were able to clearly visualize the complex, three-dimensional podocyte and endothelial interface by HIM. Our study demonstrates that HIM provides nanometer resolution to uncover and rediscover critical ultrastructural characteristics of the glomerulopathy in Col4a3 mutant mice.
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