1. Department of Nephrology, Division of Internal Medicine, Tongji Hospital, Tongji Medical College, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Wuhan, Hubei, China
2. Department of Medical Oncology, Hubei Cancer Hospital, Tongji Medical College, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Wuhan, Hubei, China
3. Department of Nephrology, Xiaogan Central Hospital, Xiaogan, Hubei, China
Renal lymphangiogenesis is a new field of international nephrology in recent years and plays an important role in the progression of chronic renal disease. CD137 was originally described as a surface molecule present on activated T and NK cells and detected on hypoxic endothelial cells and inflamed blood vessels, but its function on lymphatic endothelial cells remains unclear. We investigated the relationships among CD137, lymphangiogenesis and macrophages, which are involved in interstitial fibrosis. Similar to other chronic inflammatory diseases, we found lymphangiogenesis and expression of CD137 in the renal tissue of patients with IgA nephropathy. CD137-positive lymphatic vessels were involved in the development process of IgA nephropathy and positively correlated with serum creatinine, serum urea nitrogen, serum uric acid, and urinary 24 h total protein. The expression of these indicators was negatively correlated with eGFR, plasma albumin, and HB. In mouse models of UUO, we verified that CD137 expression was significantly elevated during lymphangiogenesis and that its ligand CD137L was released by macrophages after VEGF-C stimulation in the kidney. In vitro, recombinant CD137L significantly enhanced LEC proliferation, migration and tube formation, and these effects were inhibited by CD137 siRNA. Mechanistically, the CD137L interaction with CD137 induced the transition from LC3-I to LC3-II and the expression of Atg5, Atg7, Atg12 and p62 proteins by activating the PI3K/AKT/mTOR pathway to promote autophagy. Knockdown of Atg5 and Atg7 blocked CD137L-induced autophagy. Thus, we propose that CD137L secretion by macrophages interacts with CD137 on lymphatic endothelial cells to prompt lymphangiogenesis in the kidney, which further drives fibrogenic responses. Our findings suggest that inhibition of the CD137-CD137L pathway is a novel therapeutic approach for obstructive nephropathy.
Keywords: CD137L, macrophage, autophagy, lymphangiogenesis, renal fibrosis