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Am J Pathol. 1996 Apr;148(4):1283-96.

Cytoskeletal changes in podocytes associated with foot process effacement in Masugi nephritis.

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Institute of Anatomy and Cell Biology, University of Heidelberg, Germany.


Foot process effacement represents the most characteristic change in podocyte phenotype under a great variety of experimental as well as human glomerulopathies. It consists in simplification up to a total disappearance of an interdigitating foot process pattern. Finally, podocytes affix to the glomerular basement membrane by outspread epithelial sheets. Structural and immunocytochemical techniques were applied to analyze the cytoskeletal changes associated with foot process effacement in Masugi nephritis. Three days after injection of the anti-glomerular-basement-membrane serum an interdigitating foot process pattern was almost fully lost; more than 90 percent of the outer glomerular capillary surface were covered by expanded sheets of podocyte epithelium that contain a highly organized cytoskeleton adhering to the basal cell membrane. Structurally, this cytoskeleton consists of an interwoven network of microfilaments with regularly distributed dense bodies, which obviously serve as cross-linkers within this network. Immunocytochemically, the expression of actin, alpha-actinin, and pp44 (a specific podocyte protein normally associated with the cytoskeleton of foot processes) were increased in this structure; alpha-actinin was especially prominent in the dense bodies. The results are consistent with the view that foot process effacement represents an adaptive change in cell shape including hypertrophy of the contractile apparatus, reinforcing the supportive role of podocytes. Several factors associated with increased distending forces to podocytes may underlie this phenotype change including loss of mesangial support, elevated glomerular pressures, and impairment of GBM substructure as well as of podocyte-GBM-contacts. Twenty-eight days after serum injection a remodeling of the foot process pattern was seen. It appears that this restitution depends on a preceding repair of mesangial support function to glomerular capillaries.

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