Aristolochic acid (AA) is the causative nephrotoxic alkaloid in AA nephropathy, which results in a tubulointerstitial fibrosis. AA causes direct proximal tubule damage as well as an influx of macrophages, although the role of macrophages in pathogenesis is poorly understood. Here, we demonstrate that AA directly stimulates migration, inflammation, and ROS production in macrophages ex vivo. Cells lacking interferon regulatory factor 4 (IRF4), a known regulator of macrophage migration and phenotype, had a reduced migratory response, though effects on ROS production and inflammation were preserved or increased relative to WT cells. Macrophage-specific IRF4-knockout mice were protected from both acute and chronic kidney effects of AA administration based on functional and histological analysis. Renal macrophages from kidneys of AA-treated macrophage-specific IRF4-knockout mice demonstrated increased apoptosis and ROS production compared with WT controls, indicating that AA directly polarizes macrophages to a promigratory and proinflammatory phenotype. However, knockout mice had reduced renal macrophage abundance following AA administration. While macrophages lacking IRF4 can adopt a proinflammatory phenotype upon AA exposure, their inability to migrate to the kidney and increased rates of apoptosis upon infiltration provide protection from AA in vivo. These results provide evidence of direct AA effects on macrophages in AA nephropathy and add to the growing body of evidence that supports a key role of IRF4 in modulating macrophage function in kidney injury.
Kensuke Sasaki, Andrew S. Terker, Jiaqi Tang, Shirong Cao, Juan Pablo Arroyo, Aolei Niu, Suwan Wang, Xiaofeng Fan, Yahua Zhang, Stephanie R. Bennett, Ming-zhi Zhang, Raymond C. Harris