Podocyte injury leading to albuminuria is a characteristic feature of diabetic nephropathy (DN). Hyperglycemia and advanced glycation end products (AGEs) are major determinants of DN. However, the underlying mechanisms of podocyte injury remain poorly understood. The cytosolic protein TNFAIP2/M-Sec is required for tunneling nanotubes (TNTs) formation, which are membrane channels that transiently connect cells, allowing organelle transfer. Podocytes express TNFAIP2 and form TNTs, but the potential relevance of the TNFAIP2-TNT system in DN is unknown. We studied TNFAIP2 expression in both human and experimental DN and the renal effect of tnfaip2 deletion in streptozotocin-induced DN. Moreover, we explored the role of the TNFAIP2-TNT system in podocytes exposed to diabetes-related insults. TNFAIP2 was overexpressed by podocytes in both human and experimental DN and exposre of podocytes to high glucose and AGEs induced the TNFAIP2-TNT system. In diabetic mice, tnfaip2 deletion exacerbated albuminuria, renal function loss, podocyte injury, and mesangial expansion. Moreover, blockade of the autophagic flux due to lysosomal dysfunction was observed in diabetes-injured podocytes both in vitro and in vivo and exacerbated by tnfaip2 deletion. TNTs allowed autophagosome and lysosome exchange between podocytes, thereby ameliorating AGE-induced lysosomal dysfunction and apoptosis. This protective effect was abolished by tnfaip2 deletion, TNT inhibition, and donor cell lysosome damage. By contrast, Tnfaip2 overexpression enhanced TNT-mediated transfer and prevented AGE-induced autophagy and lysosome dysfunction and apoptosis. In conclusion, TNFAIP2 plays an important protective role in podocytes in the context of DN by allowing TNT-mediated autophagosome and lysosome exchange and may represent a novel druggable target. Abbreviations: AGEs: advanced glycation end products; AKT1: AKT serine/threonine kinase 1; AO: acridine orange; ALs: autolysosomes; APs: autophagosomes; BM: bone marrow; BSA: bovine serum albumin; CTSD: cathepsin D; DIC: differential interference contrast; DN: diabetic nephropathy; FSGS: focal segmental glomerulosclerosis; HG: high glucose; KO: knockout; LAMP1: lysosomal-associated membrane protein 1; LMP: lysosomal membrane permeabilization; MAP1LC3/LC3: microtubule-associated protein 1 light chain 3; PI3K: phosphoinositide 3-kinase; STZ: streptozotocin; TNF: tumor necrosis factor; TNFAIP2: tumor necrosis factor, alpha-induced protein 2; TNTs: tunneling nanotubes; WT: wild type.
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