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The glomerular endothelium: new insights on function and structure

Haraldsson, Börjea; Nyström, Jennyb

Current Opinion in Nephrology and Hypertension: May 2012 - Volume 21 - Issue 3 - p 258–263
doi: 10.1097/MNH.0b013e3283522e7a

Purpose of review It is our aim to review the latest findings on the intricate functional and structural properties of the glomerular endothelium. Previously, all focus has been on the podocyte and the glomerular basement membrane (GBM), but it is now clear that the endothelium plays an important part of the glomerular barrier.

Recent findings We start by giving an overview of recent findings on the glomerular ‘endothelial surface layer’ (ESL). The ESL has a membrane-bound component, the ‘glycocalyx’, and a more loosely attached ‘cell coat’ bound by charge–charge interactions. Damage to the ESL causes proteinuria even if the GBM and the podocytes are intact. Such damage can be caused by, for example, enzymatic digestion of the ESL by increased oxidative stress, or secondary to pathological conditions such as high glucose concentration. Indeed, several studies suggest the ESL to be targeted in diabetes. The correlation is likely to be causal, but the experimental evidence is still indirect. Also, there have been new findings on vascular endothelial growth factor, as well as studies on angiopoietin and angiopoietin-like proteins demonstrating a key role of the endothelium in glomerular disease.

Summary More conclusive endothelium-specific, inducible transgenic mouse models are still lacking. There are studies, however, showing that the glomerular cell components interact much more intensely than previously recognized. Thus, the glomerular barrier seems to maintain its highly selective properties by an orchestra of intercellular signaling between mesangial, endothelial and epithelial cells. The result resembles a fine-tuned symphony of which we have heard only small parts, and understood even less.

aDepartment of Clinical and Molecular Medicine, Institute of Medicine

bDepartment of Physiology, Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology, Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden

Correspondence to Börje Haraldsson, Department of Molecular and Clinical Medicine, University of Gothenburg, SE-413 45 Gothenburg, Sweden. Tel: +46 31 342 7086; e-mail:

© 2012 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.