In addition to forming the selective filtration barrier for the renal glomerulus, podocytes maintain glomerular capillary architecture by opposing distending hemodynamic forces. To understand the relationship of cytoskeletal properties and the mechanical characteristics of podocytes, we studied filamin expression and distribution and measured cell membrane deformability in conditionally immortalized wild-type (WT) mouse podocytes, and in podocytes derived from a mouse model of HIV-associated nephropathy (HIVAN). In the WT cells, filamin and F-actin were localized at the periphery and in prominent stress fibers. In the HIVAN cells, filamin expression was reduced, and stress fibers were sparse. In a microaspiration assay, HIVAN cells ruptured under minimal negative pressure. Atomic force microscopy demonstrated that the WT cells had a stiffness of 17 kPa, whereas the value for the HIVAN cells was 4 kPa. These results demonstrate that the mechanical properties of WT and HIVAN podocytes are markedly different in a manner that is consistent with differences in the composition and arrangement of their cytoskeletons. The mechanical properties of the WT podocytes suggest that these cells can better maintain capillary integrity than the HIVAN podocytes and implicate pathological assembly of the cytoskeleton as a mechanism of HIVAN.
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