Mercury induces regional and cell-specific stress protein expression in rat kidney

Peter L. Goering, Benjamin R. Fisher, Bradley T. Noren, Andriana Papaconstantinou, Jennifer L. Rojko, Ronald J. Marler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

73 Scopus citations


Cells respond to physiologic stress by enhancing the expression of specific stress proteins. Heat-shock proteins (hsps) and glucose-regulated proteins (grps) are members of a large superfamily of proteins collectively referred to as stress proteins. This particular stress-protein response has evolved as a cellular strategy to protect, repair, and chaperone other essential cellular proteins. The objective of this study was to evaluate the differential expression of four hsps in the renal cortex and medulla during experimental nephrotoxic injury using HgCl2. Male Sprague-Dawley rats received single injections of HgCl2 (0.25, 0.5, or 1 mg Hg/kg, iv). At 4, 8, 16, or 24 h after exposure, kidneys were removed and processed for histopathologic, immunoblot, and immunohistochemical analyses. Nephrosis was characterized as minimal or mild (cytoplasmic condensation, tubular epithelial degeneration, single cell necrosis) at the lower exposures, and progressed to moderate or severe (nuclear pyknosis, necrotic foci, sloughing of the epithelial casts into tubular lumens) at the highest exposures. Western blots of renal proteins were probed with monoclonal antibodies specific for 4 hsps. In whole kidney, Hg(II) induced a time- and dose-related accumulation of hsp72 and grp94. Accumulation of hsp72 was predominantly localized in the cortex and not medulla, while grp94 accumulated primarily in the medulla but not cortex. The high, constitutive expression of hsp73 did not change as a result of Hg(II) exposure, and it was equally localized in cortex and medulla. Hsp90 was not detected in kidneys of control or Hg- treated rats. Since hsp72 has been shown involved in cellular repair and recovery, and since Hg(II) damage occurs primarily in cortex, we investigated the cell-specific expression of this hsp. Hsp72 accumulated primarily in undamaged distal convoluted tubule epithelia, with less accumulation in undamaged proximal convoluted-tubule epithelia. These results demonstrate that expression of specific stress proteins in rat kidney exhibits regional heterogeneity in response to Hg(II) exposure, and a positive correlation exists between accumulation of some stress proteins and acute renal cell injury. While the role of accumulation of hsps and other stress proteins in vivo prior to or concurrent with nephrotoxicity remains to be completely understood, these stress proteins may be part of a cellular defense response to nephrotoxicants. Conversely, renal tubular epithelial cells that do not or are unable to express stress proteins, such as hsp72, may be more susceptible to nephrotoxicity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)447-457
Number of pages11
JournalToxicological Sciences
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2000


  • Acute renal injury
  • Glucose- regulated proteins
  • Grp94
  • Heat-shock proteins
  • Hsp72
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Kidney
  • Mercury
  • Stress proteins

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology


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