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Nat Rev Nephrol. 2015 Sep;11(9):535-45. doi: 10.1038/nrneph.2015.88. Epub 2015 Jun 9.

Wnt/β-catenin signalling and podocyte dysfunction in proteinuric kidney disease.

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State Key Laboratory of Organ Failure Research, Division of Nephrology, Nanfang Hospital, Southern Medical University, Guangzhou 510515, China.
Department of Pathology, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh, PA 15261, USA.


Podocytes are unique, highly specialized, terminally differentiated cells that are integral components of the kidney glomerular filtration barrier. Podocytes are vulnerable to a variety of injuries and in response they undergo a series of changes ranging from hypertrophy, autophagy, dedifferentiation, mesenchymal transition and detachment to apoptosis, depending on the nature and extent of the insult. Emerging evidence indicates that Wnt/β-catenin signalling has a central role in mediating podocyte dysfunction and proteinuria. Wnts are induced and β-catenin is activated in podocytes in various proteinuric kidney diseases. Genetic or pharmacologic activation of β-catenin is sufficient to impair podocyte integrity and causes proteinuria in healthy mice, whereas podocyte-specific ablation of β-catenin protects against proteinuria after kidney injury. Mechanistically, Wnt/β-catenin controls the expression of several key mediators implicated in podocytopathies, including Snail1, the renin-angiotensin system and matrix metalloproteinase 7. Wnt/β-catenin also negatively regulates Wilms tumour protein, a crucial transcription factor that safeguards podocyte integrity. Targeted inhibition of Wnt/β-catenin signalling preserves podocyte integrity and ameliorates proteinuria in animal models. This Review highlights advances in our understanding of the pathomechanisms of Wnt/β-catenin signalling in mediating podocyte injury, and describes the therapeutic potential of targeting this pathway for the treatment of proteinuric kidney disease.

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