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PLoS One. 2018 Feb 1;13(2):e0192084. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0192084. eCollection 2018.

Intermittent hypoxia causes histological kidney damage and increases growth factor expression in a mouse model of obstructive sleep apnea.

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Department of Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada.
Departments of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, Faculty of Medicine, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada.


Epidemiological studies demonstrate an association between obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and accelerated loss of kidney function. It is unclear whether the decline in function is due to OSA per se or to other confounding factors such as obesity. In addition, the structural kidney abnormalities associated with OSA are unclear. The objective of this study was to determine whether intermittent hypoxia (IH), a key pathological feature of OSA, induces renal histopathological damage using a mouse model. Ten 8-week old wild-type male CB57BL/6 mice were randomly assigned to receive either IH or intermittent air (IA) for 60 days. After euthanasia, one kidney per animal was paraformaldehyde-fixed and then sectioned for histopathological and immunohistochemical analysis. Measurements of glomerular hypertrophy and mesangial matrix expansion were made in periodic acid-Schiff stained kidney sections, while glomerular transforming growth factor-β1 (TGF-β1), connective tissue growth factor (CTGF) and vascular endothelial growth factor-A (VEGF-A) proteins were semi-quantified by immunohistochemistry. The antigen-antibody reaction was detected by 3,3'-diaminobenzidine chromogen where the color intensity semi-quantified glomerular protein expression. To enhance the accuracy of protein semi-quantification, the percentage of only highly-positive staining was used for analysis. Levels of TGF-β, CTGF and VEGF-A proteins in the kidney cortex were further quantified by western blotting. Cellular apoptosis was also investigated by measuring cortical antiapoptotic B-cell lymphoma 2 (Bcl-2) and apoptotic Bcl-2-associated X (Bax) proteins by western blotting. Further investigation of cellular apoptosis was carried out by fluorometric terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase (TdT) dUTP Nick-End Labeling (TUNEL) staining. Finally, the levels of serum creatinine and 24-hour urinary albumin were measured as a general index of renal function. Our results indicate that mice exposed to IH have an increased glomerular area (by 1.13 fold, p< 0.001) and expansion of mesangial matrix (by 1.8 fold, p< 0.01). Moreover, the glomerular expressions of TGF-β1, CTGF and VEGF-A proteins were 2.7, 2.2 and 3.8-fold higher in mice exposed to IH (p< 0.05 for all). Furthermore, western blotting protein analysis demonstrates that IH-exposed mice express higher levels of TGF-β1, CTGF and VEGF-A proteins by 1.9, 4.0 and 1.6-fold (p< 0.05 for all) respectively. Renal cellular apoptosis was greater in the IH group as shown by an increased cortical Bax/Bcl-2 protein ratio (p< 0.01) and higher fluorometric TUNEL staining (p< 0.001). Finally, 24-hr urinary albumin levels were higher in mice exposed to IH (43.4 μg vs 9.7 μg, p< 0.01), while there were no differences in serum creatinine levels between the two groups. We conclude that IH causes kidney injury that is accompanied by glomerular hypertrophy, mesangial matrix expansion, increased expression of glomerular growth factors and an increased cellular apoptosis.

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