Proliferation and extracellular matrix (ECM) overproduction by glomerular mesangial cells characterizes many types of glomerulonephritis and often precedes the development of glomerulosclerosis. Heparin is a potent inhibitor of mesangial cell growth in vitro. We examined whether standard heparin can inhibit mesangial cell proliferation in vivo in the mesangioproliferative anti-Thy 1.1 nephritis. Untreated control rats were compared to rats infused with heparin either early (day -2 to 1) or late (day 2 to 5) after induction of anti-Thy 1.1 nephritis. The results show that heparin treatment significantly reduced mesangial cell proliferation regardless of when it was initiated. Heparin (either early or late treatment) also reduced mesangial basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF) expression and platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF) receptor up-regulation as reflected by immunostaining, whereas PDGF B-chain expression was reduced only by late heparin treatment. Furthermore, heparin treatment markedly inhibited the mesangial matrix expansion for a variety of ECM proteins, including laminin, type I and IV collagen, fibronectin and entactin. Heparin did not affect the initial mesangiolysis, glomerular macrophage influx, deposition of anti-Thy 1.1 IgG or fibrinogen, or the glomerular platelet influx. These results suggest that heparin, via its antiproliferative rather than anticoagulant effect, can inhibit mesangial cell proliferation, overexpression of polypeptide growth factors, and ECM protein overproduction in vivo. The beneficial effect of heparin can be demonstrated even if treatment is initiated after the development of nephritis. By virtue of these properties, heparin may be an effective agent in the treatment of human mesangioproliferative disease and in the prevention of glomerulosclerosis.
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