Impaired Hedgehog-Gli1 Pathway Activity Underlies the Vascular Phenotype of Polycystic Kidney Disease

Federico Franchi, Karen M. Peterson, Katherine Quandt, David Domnick, Timothy L. Kline, Michaela Olthoff, Mojtaba Parvizi, Ezequiel J. Tolosa, Vicente E. Torres, Peter C. Harris, Martin E. Fernandez-Zapico, Martin G. Rodriguez-Porcel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Polycystic kidney disease (PKD) has been linked to abnormal structure/function of ciliary proteins, leading to renal dysfunction. Recently, attention has been focused in the significant vascular abnormalities associated with PKD, but the mechanisms underlying this phenomenon remain elusive. Here, we seek to define the molecular events regulating the angiogenic imbalance observed in PKD. Using micro computed tomography (n=7) and protein expression analysis (n=5), we assessed the vascular density and the angiogenic profile of noncystic organs in a well-established PKD rat model (Polycystic Kidney-PCK rat). Heart and lungs of PCK rats have reduced vascular density and decreased expression of angiogenic factors compared with wild type. Similarly, PCK-vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs; n=4) exhibited lower levels of vascular markers. Then, using small interfering RNA (n=4), we determined the role of the ciliary protein fibrocystin in wild type-VSMCs, a critical component/regulator of vascular structure and function. Reduction of fibrocystin in wild type-VSMCs (n=4) led to an abnormal angiogenic potential similar to that observed in PCK-VSMCs. Furthermore, we investigated the involvement of the hedgehog signaling, a pathway closely linked to the primary cilium and associated with vascular development, in PKD. Mechanistically, we demonstrated that impairment of the hedgehog signaling mediates, in part, this abnormal angiogenic phenotype. Lastly, overexpression of Gli1 in PCK-VSMCs (n=4) restored the expression levels of proangiogenic molecules. Our data support a critical role of fibrocystin in the abnormal vascular phenotype of PKD and indicate that a dysregulation of hedgehog may be responsible, at least in part, for these vascular deficiencies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1889-1897
Number of pages9
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2020


  • cell signaling
  • cilia
  • hedgehog pathway
  • kidney
  • vascular smooth muscle

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine


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