Exposure of proximal tubular epithelial cells to high glucose contributes to the accumulation of tubulointerstitial and matrix proteins in diabetic nephropathy, but how this occurs is not well understood. We investigated the effect of the signaling molecule tuberin, which modulates the mammalian target of rapamycin pathway, on renal hypertrophy and fibronectin expression. We found that the kidney mass was significantly greater in partially tuberin-deficient (TSC2+/-) diabetic rats than wild-type diabetic rats. Furthermore, TSC2+/- rats exhibited significant increases in the basal levels of phospho-tuberin and fibronectin expression in the kidney cortex. Increased levels of phosphorylated tuberin associated with an increase in fibronectin expression in both wild-type and TSC2+/- diabetic rats. Treatment with insulin abrogated the diabetes-induced increase in fibronectin expression. In vitro, high glucose enhanced fibronectin expression in TSC2+/- primary proximal tubular epithelial cells; both inhibition of Akt and inhibition of the mammalian target of rapamycin could prevent this effect of glucose. In addition, forced expression of tuberin in tuberin-null cells abolished the expression of fibronectin protein. Taken together, these data suggest that tuberin plays a central role in the development of renal hypertrophy and in modulating the production of the matrix protein fibronectin in diabetes.
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