Chronic kidney diseases are widespread and incurable. The biophysical mechanisms underlying them are unclear, in part because material systems for reconstituting the microenvironment of relevant kidney cells are limited. A critical question is how kidney podocytes (glomerular epithelial cells) regenerate foot processes of the filtration apparatus following injury. Recently identified sarcomere-like structures (SLSs) with periodically spaced myosin IIA and synaptopodin appear in injured podocytes in vivo. We hypothesized that SLSs template synaptopodin in the initial stages of recovery in response to microenvironmental stimuli and tested this hypothesis by developing an ex vivo culture system that allows control of the podocyte microenvironment. Results supported our hypothesis. SLSs in podocytes that migrated from isolated kidney glomeruli presented periodic synaptopodin-positive clusters that nucleated peripheral, foot process-like extensions. SLSs were mechanoresponsive to actomyosin inhibitors and substrate stiffness. Results suggest SLSs as mechanobiological mediators of podocyte recovery and as potential targets for therapeutic intervention.
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