Transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β) plays crucial roles in the development of focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, but key molecular pathways remain unknown. Here, we identified the regulation of mammalian target of rapamycin complex1 (mTORC1) by TGF-β via ERK1/2 in the Adriamycin-induced murine model of focal segmental glomerulosclerosis. Adriamycin administration elicited early activation of TGF-β-ERK1/2-mTORC1 in podocytes, which persisted at later stages of albuminuria and glomerulosclerosis. Phosphorylation of the TGF-β receptor-I (TGF-βRI), Smad3, ERK1/2 and ribosomal protein S6 were evident in the glomeruli of adriamycin-treated mice. Targeting TGFβ-RI and mTORC1 with pharmacological inhibitors suppressed TGF-β signaling in glomeruli and significantly reduced albuminuria, glomerulosclerosis, protein levels of collagen 4α3, plasminogen activator inhibitor-1, and vimentin and restored mRNA levels of podocyte markers. Low dose US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved MEK/ERK inhibitor trametinib/GSK1120212 blunted TGF-β1–induced mTORC1 activation in podocytes, ameliorated up-regulation of TGF-β, plasminogen activator inhibitor-1, monocyte chemoattractant protein-1, fibronectin and α-smooth muscle actin and prevented albuminuria and glomerulosclerosis with improved serum albumin. In cultured podocytes, this pathway was found to be associated with translation of fibrogenic collagen 4α3 and plasminogen activator inhibitor-1, without influencing their transcription. Notably, rapamycin suppressed upstream p-TGF-βRI, p-Smad3 and p-ERK1/2, and trametinib down-regulated upstream p-Smad3 in ex vivo and in vivo studies, indicating that harmful paracrine signaling among glomerular cells amplified the TGF-β–ERK1/2–mTORC1 axis by forming a positive feedback loop. Thus, an accentuated TGF-β–ERK1/2–mTORC1 pathway is suggested as a central upstream mediator to develop proteinuria and glomerulosclerosis. Hence, preventing activation of this vicious loop by trametinib may offer a new therapeutic strategy for glomerular disease treatment.
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