BACKGROUND: Cigarette smoking plays an important role in the progression of chronic kidney disease (CKD). Nicotine, one of the major components of cigarette smoking, has been demonstrated to increase proliferation of renal mesangial cells. In this study, we examined the effect of nicotine on podocyte injury.
METHODS: To determine the expression of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChR subunits) in podocytes, cDNAs and cell lysate of cultured human podocytes were used for the expression of nAChR mRNAs and proteins, respectively; and mouse renal cortical sections were subjected to immunofluorescant staining. We also studied the effect of nicotine on podocyte nephrin expression, reactive oxygen species (ROS) generation (via DCFDA loading followed by fluorometric analysis), proliferation, and apoptosis (morphologic assays). We evaluated the effect of nicotine on podocyte downstream signaling including phosphorylation of ERK1/2, JNK, and p38 and established causal relationships by using respective inhibitors. We used nAChR antagonists to confirm the role of nicotine on podocyte injury.
RESULTS: Human podocytes displayed robust mRNA and protein expression of nAChR in vitro studies. In vivo studies, mice renal cortical sections revealed co-localization of nAChRs along with synaptopodin. In vitro studies, nephrin expression in podocyte was decreased by nicotine. Nicotine stimulated podocyte ROS generation; nonetheless, antioxidants such as N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) and TEMPOL (superoxide dismutase mimetic agent) inhibited this effect of nicotine. Nicotine did not modulate proliferation but promoted apoptosis in podocytes. Nicotine enhanced podocyte phosphorylation of ERK1/2, JNK, and p38, and their specific inhibitors attenuated nicotine-induced apoptosis. nAChR antagonists significantly suppressed the effects of nicotine on podocyte.
CONCLUSIONS: Nicotine induces podocyte apoptosis through ROS generation and associated downstream MAPKs signaling. The present study provides insight into molecular mechanisms involved in smoking associated progression of chronic kidney disease.