Inactivation of TSC1 promotes epithelial-mesenchymal transition of renal tubular epithelial cells in mouse diabetic nephropathy

Authors: Qian Lu1, Yi-bing Chen1, Hao Yang1, Wen-wen Wang2, Cheng-cheng Li1, Lei Wang1, Jin Wang1, Lei Du1, Xiao-xing Yin1
1 Jiangsu Key Laboratory of New Drug Research and Clinical Pharmacy, Xuzhou Medical University, Xuzhou 221004, China
2 Wuxi Higher Health Vocational Technology School, Wuxi 214028, China
Correspondence to: Xiao-xing Yin:,
DOI: 10.1038/s41401-019-0244-6
Received: 14 October 2018
Accepted: 25 April 2019
Advance online: 24 June 2019


Epithelial–mesenchymal transition (EMT) of renal tubular epithelial cells is one of the potential mechanisms of renal fibrosis, which promotes the development of diabetic nephropathy (DN). However, the molecular mechanisms of EMT remain largely unknown. Tuberous sclerosis proteins TSC1 and TSC2 are key integrators of growth factor signaling, and the loss of TSC1 or TSC2 function leads to a spectrum of diseases that underlie abnormalities in cell growth, proliferation, differentiation, and migration. In this study, we investigated the effects of TSC1 on high glucose (HG)-induced EMT of human proximal tubular epithelial HK-2 cells in vitro and renal fibrosis in TSC1−/− and db/db mice. We found that the exposure of HK-2 cells to HG (30 mM) time-dependently decreased TSC1 expression, increased the phosphorylation of mTORC1, P70S6K, and 4E-BP-1, and promoted cell migration, resulting in EMT. Transfection of the cells with TSC1 mimic significantly ameliorated HG-induced EMT of HK-2 cells. The tubules-specific TSC1 knockout mice (TSC1−/−) displayed a significant decline in renal function. TSC1−/− mice, similar to db/db mice, showed greatly activated mTORC1 signaling and EMT process in the renal cortex and exacerbated renal fibrosis. Overexpression of TSC1 through LV-TSC1 transfection significantly alleviated the progression of EMT and renal fibrosis in the renal cortex of db/db mice. Taken together, our results suggest that TSC1 plays a key role in mediating HG-induced EMT, and inhibition of TSC1-regulated mTORC1 signaling may be a potential approach to prevent renal fibrosis in DN.
Keywords: diabetic nephropathy; tuberous sclerosis complex 1; epithelial–mesenchymal transition; renal fibrosis; human proximal tubular epithelial cell line HK-2; TSC1−/− mice; db/db mice; rapamycin

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