Glomerular disease is characterized by proteinuria and glomerulosclerosis, two pathologic features caused by podocyte injury and mesangial cell activation, respectively. However, whether these two events are linked remains elusive. Here, we report that sonic hedgehog (Shh) is the mediator that connects podocyte damage to mesangial activation and glomerulosclerosis. Shh was induced in glomerular podocytes in various models of proteinuric chronic kidney diseases (CKD). However, mesangial cells in the glomeruli, but not podocytes, responded to hedgehog ligand. In vitro, Shh was induced in podocytes after injury and selectively promoted mesangial cell activation and proliferation. In a miniorgan culture of isolated glomeruli, Shh promoted mesangial activation but did not affect the integrity of podocytes. Podocyte-specific ablation of Shh in vivo exhibited no effect on proteinuria after adriamycin injection but hampered mesangial activation and glomerulosclerosis. Consistently, pharmacologic blockade of Shh signaling decoupled proteinuria from glomerulosclerosis. In humans, Shh was upregulated in glomerular podocytes in patients with CKD and its circulating level was associated with glomerulosclerosis but not proteinuria. These studies demonstrate that Shh mechanistically links podocyte injury to mesangial activation in the pathogenesis of glomerular diseases. Our findings also illustrate a crucial role for podocyte-mesangial communication in connecting proteinuria to glomerulosclerosis.


Dong Zhou, Haiyan Fu, Yang Han, Lu Zhang, Shijia Liu, Lin Lin, Donna B. Stolz, Youhua Liu


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