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Regulation of Neph3 gene in podocytes – key roles of transcription factors NF-κB and Sp1

Mervi Ristola1, Satu Arpiainen2, Moin A Saleem3, Peter W Mathieson3, Gavin I Welsh3, Sanna Lehtonen1 and Harry Holthöfer12*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Bacteriology and Immunology, Haartman Institute, P.O. Box 21, 00014 University of Helsinki, Finland

2 National Centre for Sensor Research, Centre for BioAnalytical Sciences, Dublin City University, Glasnevin, Dublin 9, Ireland

3 Academic and Children's Renal Unit, University of Bristol, Southmead Hospital, Bristol, BS10 5NB, UK

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BMC Molecular Biology 2009, 10:83  doi:10.1186/1471-2199-10-83

Published: 24 August 2009



Neph3 (filtrin) is expressed in the glomerular podocytes where it localizes at the specialized cell adhesion structures of the foot processes called slit diaphragms which form the outermost layer of the glomerular filtration barrier. Neph3 protein shows homology and structural similarity to Neph1, Neph2 and nephrin, which all are crucial for maintaining the normal glomerular ultrafiltration function. The exact function of Neph3 in the kidney is not known but we have previously shown that the level of Neph3 mRNA is decreased in proteinuric diseases. This suggests that Neph3 may play a role in the pathogenesis of kidney damage, and emphasizes the need to analyze the regulatory mechanisms of Neph3 gene. In this study we investigated the transcriptional regulation of Neph3 gene by identifying transcription factors that control Neph3 expression.


We cloned and characterized approximately 5 kb fragment upstream of the Neph3 gene. Neph3 proximal promoter near the transcription start site was found to be devoid of TATA and CAAT boxes, but to contain a highly GC-rich area. Using promoter reporter gene constructs, we localized the main activating regulatory region of Neph3 gene in its proximal promoter region from -105 to -57. Within this region, putative transcription factor binding sites for NF-κB and Sp1 were found by computational analysis. Mutational screening indicated that NF-κB and Sp1 response elements are essential for the basal transcriptional activity of the Neph3 promoter. Co-transfection studies further showed that NF-κB and Sp1 regulate Neph3 promoter activity. In addition, overexpression of NF-κB increased endogenous Neph3 gene expression. Chromatin immunoprecipitation assay using cultured human podocytes demonstrated that both NF-κB and Sp1 interact with the Neph3 promoter.


Our results show that NF-κB and Sp1 are key regulators of Neph3 expression at the basal level in podocytes, therefore providing new insight into the molecular mechanisms that contribute to the expression of Neph3 gene.