The architectural integrity of tissues requires complex interactions, both between cells and between cells and the extracellular matrix. Fundamental to cell and tissue homeostasis are the specific mechanical forces conveyed by the actomyosin cytoskeleton. Here we used super-resolution imaging methods to visualize the actin cytoskeleton in the kidney glomerulus, an organized collection of capillaries that filters the blood to make the primary urine. Our analysis of both mouse and human glomeruli reveals a network of myosin IIA–containing contractile actin cables within podocyte cell bodies and major processes at the outer aspects of the glomerular tuft. These likely exert force on an underlying network of myosin IIA–negative, noncontractile actin fibers present within podocyte foot processes that function to both anchor the cells to the glomerular basement membrane and stabilize the slit diaphragm against the pressure of fluid flow. After injuries that disrupt the kidney filtration barrier and cause foot process effacement, the podocyte’s contractile actomyosin network relocates to the basolateral surface of the cell, manifesting as sarcomere-like structures juxtaposed to the basement membrane. Our findings suggest a new model of the podocyte actin cytoskeleton in health and disease and suggest the existence of novel mechanisms that regulate podocyte architecture.
Hani Y. Suleiman, Robyn Roth, Sanjay Jain, John E. Heuser, Andrey S. Shaw, Jeffrey H. Miner