Podocytes, the glomerular epithelial cells of the kidney, share important features with neuronal cells. In addition to phenotypical and functional similarities, a number of gene products have been found to be expressed exclusively or predominantly by both cell types. With the hypothesis of a common transcriptome shared by podocytes and neurons, digital differential display was used to identify novel podocyte-expressed gene products. Comparison of brain and kidney cDNA libraries with those of other organs identified Sam68-like mammalian protein 2 (SLM-2), a member of the STAR family of RNA processing proteins, as expressed by podocytes. SLM-2 expression was found to be restricted in the kidney to podocytes. In proteinuric diseases, SLM-2, a known regulator of neuronal mRNA splice site selection, was found significantly upregulated on mRNA and protein levels. Knockdown of SLM-2 by short interfering RNA in podocytes was performed to evaluate its biologic role. RNA splicing of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), a key regulator of the filtration barrier and expressed as functionally distinct splice isoforms, was evaluated. VEGF 165 expression was found to be reduced by 25% after SLM-2 knockdown. In vivo, the glomerular expression of SLM-2 correlated with the mRNA levels of VEGF165. This study demonstrates the power of digital differential display to predict cell type-specific gene expression by hypothesis-driven analysis of tissue cDNA libraries. SLM-2-dependent VEGF splicing indicates the importance of mRNA splice site selection for glomerular filtration barrier function.
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