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Inhibition of the glucocorticoid receptor attenuates proteinuric kidney diseases in multiple species.

BACKGROUND AND HYPOTHESIS: Glucocorticoids are the treatment of choice for proteinuric patients with minimal-change disease (MCD) and primary focal and segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS). Immunosuppressive as well as direct effects on podocytes are believed to mediate their actions. In this study, we analyzed the anti-proteinuric effects of inhibition of the glucocorticoid receptor (GR) in glomerular epithelial cells, including podocytes.

METHODS: We employed genetic and pharmacological approaches to inhibit the GR. Genetically, we used Pax8-Cre/GRfl/fl mice to specifically inactivate the GR in kidney epithelial cells. Pharmacologically, we utilized a glucocorticoid antagonist called mifepristone.

RESULTS: Genetic inactivation of GR, specifically in kidney epithelial cells, using Pax8-Cre/GRfl/fl mice, ameliorated proteinuria following protein overload. We further tested the effects of pharmacological GR inhibition in three models and species: the puromycin-aminonucleoside-induced nephrosis model in rats, the protein overload model in mice and the inducible transgenic NTR/MTZ zebrafish larvae with specific and reversible podocyte injury. In all three models, both pharmacological GR activation and inhibition consistently and significantly ameliorated proteinuria. Additionally, we translated our findings to humans, where three nephrotic adult patients with MCD or primary FSGS with contraindications or insufficient responses to corticosteroids, were treated with mifepristone. This treatment resulted in a clinically relevant reduction of proteinuria.

CONCLUSIONS: Thus, across multiple species and proteinuria models, both genetic and pharmacological GR inhibition was at least as effective as pronounced GR activation. While, the mechanism remains perplexing, GR inhibition may be a novel and targeted therapeutic approach to treat glomerular proteinuria potentially bypassing adverse actions of steroids.

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