Podocyte-specific expression of cre recombinase promotes glomerular basement membrane thickening

Academic Article


  • © 2019, American Physiological Society. All rights reserved. Conditional gene targeting using Cre recombinase has offered a powerful tool to modify gene function precisely in defined cells/ tissues and at specific times. However, in mammalian cells, Cre recombinase can be genotoxic. The importance of including Cre-expressing control mice to avoid misinterpretation and to maximize the validity of the experimental results has been increasingly recognized. While studying the role of podocytes in the pathogenesis of glomerular basement membrane (GBM) thickening, we used Cre recombinase driven by the podocyte-specific podocin promoter (NPHS2-Cre) to generate a conditional knockout. By conventional structural and functional measures (histology by periodic acid-Schiff staining, albuminuria, and plasma creatinine), we did not detect significant differences between NPHS2-Cre transgenic and wild-type control mice. However, surprisingly, the group that expressed Cre transgene alone developed signs of podocyte toxicity, including marked GBM thickening, loss of normal foot process morphology, and reduced Wilms tumor 1 expression. GBM thickening was characterized by altered expression of core structural protein laminin isoform 5β2γ1. RNA sequencing analysis of extracted glomeruli identified 230 genes that were significant and differentially expressed (applying a q < 0.05-fold change ≥ ±2 cutoff) in NPHS2-Cre mice compared with wild-type control mice. Many biological processes were reflected in the RNA sequencing data, including regulation of the extracellular matrix and pathways related to apoptosis and cell death. This study highlights the importance of including the appropriate controls for potential Cre-mediated toxicity in conditional gene-targeting experiments. Indeed, omitting the Cre transgene control can result in critical errors during interpretation of experimental data.
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Balkawade RS; Chen C; Crowley MR; Crossman DK; Clapp WL; Verlander JW; Marshall CB
  • Start Page

  • F1026
  • End Page

  • F1040
  • Volume

  • 316
  • Issue

  • 5