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Organization of the pronephric filtration apparatus in zebrafish requires Nephrin, Podocin and the FERM domain protein Mosaic eyes

Podocytes are specialized cells of the kidney that form the blood filtration barrier in the kidney glomerulus. The barrier function of podocytes depends upon the development of specialized cell–cell adhesion complexes called slit-diaphragms that form between podocyte foot processes surrounding glomerular blood vessels. Failure of the slit-diaphragm to form results in leakage of high molecular weight proteins into the blood filtrate and urine, a condition called proteinuria. In this work, we test whether the zebrafish pronephros can be used as an assay system for the development of glomerular function with the goal of identifying novel components of the slit-diaphragm. We first characterized the function of the zebrafish homolog of Nephrin, the disease gene associated with the congenital nephritic syndrome of the Finnish type, and Podocin, the gene mutated in autosomal recessive steroid-resistant nephrotic syndrome. Zebrafish nephrin and podocin were specifically expressed in pronephric podocytes and required for the development of pronephric podocyte cell structure. Ultrastructurally, disruption of nephrin or podocin expression resulted in a loss of slit-diaphragms at 72 and 96 h post-fertilization and failure to form normal podocyte foot processes. We also find that expression of the band 4.1/FERM domain gene mosaic eyes in podocytes is required for proper formation of slit-diaphragm cell–cell junctions. A functional assay of glomerular filtration barrier revealed that absence of normal nephrin, podocin or mosaic eyes expression results in loss of glomerular filtration discrimination and aberrant passage of high molecular weight substances into the glomerular filtrate.
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