Rhophilin-1 is a Rho GTPase-interacting protein, the biologic function of which is largely unknown. Here, we identify and describe the functional role of Rhophilin-1 as a novel podocyte-specific protein of the kidney glomerulus. Rhophilin-1 knockout mice were phenotypically normal at birth but developed albuminuria at about 2 weeks of age. Kidneys from severely albuminuric mice revealed widespread podocyte foot process effacement, thickening of the glomerular basement membrane, and FSGS-like lesions. The absence of any overt changes in the expression of podocyte proteins at the onset of proteinuria suggested that the primary cause of podocyte abnormalities in Rhpn1-null mice was the result of cell-autonomous, Rhophilin-1-dependent signaling events. In culture, Rhophilin-1 was detected at the plasma membrane leading edge of primary podocytes, where it elicited remodeling of the actin cytoskeleton network. This effect of Rhophilin-1 on actin cytoskeleton organization associated with inhibitory effects on Rho-dependent phosphorylation of the myosin regulatory light chain and stress fiber formation. Conversely, phosphorylation of myosin regulatory light chain increased in podocyte foot processes of Rhpn1(-/-) mice, implicating altered actinomyosin contractility in foot process effacement and compromised filtration capacity. Targeted deletion of RhoA in podocytes of Rhophilin-1 knockout mice exacerbated the renal injury. Taken together, our results indicate that Rhophilin-1 is essential for the integrity of the glomerular filtration barrier and that this protein is a key determinant of podocyte cytoskeleton architecture.
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