Genetic evidence supports an early role for Notch signaling in the fate of podocytes during glomerular development. Decreased expression of Notch transcriptional targets in developing podocytes after the determination of cell fate suggests that constitutive Notch signaling may oppose podocyte differentiation. This study determined the effects of constitutive Notch signaling on podocyte differentiation by ectopically expressing Notch's intracellular domain (NOTCH-IC), the biologically active, intracellular product of proteolytic cleavage of the Notch receptor, in developing podocytes of transgenic mice. Histologic and molecular analyses revealed normal glomerular morphology and expression of podocyte markers in newborn NOTCH-IC-expressing mice; however, mice developed severe proteinuria and showed evidence of progressive glomerulosclerosis at 2 wk after birth. Features of mature podocytes were lost: Foot processes were effaced; expression of Wt 1, Nphs1, and Nphs2 was downregulated; cell-cycle re-entry was induced; and the expression of Pax2 was increased. In contrast, mice with podocyte-specific inactivation of Rbpsuh, which encodes a protein essential for canonical Notch signaling, seemed normal. In addition, the damaging effects of NOTCH-IC expression were prevented in transgenic mice after simultaneous conditional inactivation of Rbpsuh in murine podocytes. These results suggest that Notch signaling is dispensable during terminal differentiation of podocytes but that constitutive (or inappropriate) Notch signaling is deleterious, leading to glomerulosclerosis.
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