For investigation of how the vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) system participates in the pathogenesis of diabetic kidney disease, type 2 diabetic db/db and control db/m mice were treated intraperitoneally with vehicle or 2 mg/kg of a pan-VEGF receptor tyrosine kinase inhibitor, SU5416, twice a week for 8 wk. Efficacy of SU5416 treatment in the kidney was verified by the inhibition of VEGF receptor-1 phosphorylation. Glomerular VEGF immunostaining, normally increased in diabetes, was unaffected by SU5416. Plasma creatinine did not change with diabetes or SU5416 treatment. The primary end point of albuminuria increased approximately four-fold in the diabetic db/db mice but was significantly ameliorated by SU5416. Correlates of albuminuria were investigated. Diabetic glomerular basement membrane thickening was prevented in the SU5416-treated db/db mice, whereas mesangial matrix expansion remained unchanged by treatment. The density of open slit pores between podocyte foot processes was decreased in db/db diabetes but was partly increased toward normal by SU5416. Finally, nephrin protein by immunofluorescence was decreased in the db/db mice but was significantly restored by SU5416. Paradoxically, total nephrin protein by immunoblotting was increased in diabetes, pointing toward a possible dysregulation of nephrin trafficking. Diabetic albuminuria is partially a function of VEGF receptor signaling overactivity. VEGF signaling was found to affect a number of podocyte-driven manifestations such as GBM thickening, slit pore density, and nephrin quantity, all of which are associated with the extent of diabetic albuminuria. By impeding these pathophysiologic processes, VEGF receptor inhibition by SU5416 might become a useful adjunct to anti-albuminuria therapy in diabetic nephropathy.
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