Epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) contributes significantly to interstitial matrix deposition in diabetic kidney disease (DKD). However, detection of EMT in kidney tissue is impracticable, and anti-EMT therapies have long been hindered. We reported that phosphatase and tensin homolog (PTEN) promoted transforming growth factor beta 1 (TGF-β), sonic hedgehog (SHH), connective tissue growth factor (CTGF), interleukin 6 (IL-6), and hyperglycemia-induced EMT when PTEN was modified by a MEX3C-catalyzed K27-linked polyubiquitination at lysine 80 (referred to as PTENK27-polyUb). Genetic inhibition of PTENK27-polyUb alleviated Col4a3 knockout–, folic acid–, and streptozotocin-induced (STZ-induced) kidney injury. Serum and urine PTENK27-polyUb concentrations were negatively correlated with glomerular filtration rate (GFR) for diabetic patients. Mechanistically, PTENK27-polyUb facilitated dephosphorylation and protein stabilization of TWIST, SNAI1, and YAP in renal epithelial cells, leading to enhanced EMT. We identified that a small molecule, triptolide, inhibited MEX3C-catalyzed PTENK27-polyUb and EMT of renal epithelial cells. Treatment with triptolide reduced TWIST, SNAI1, and YAP concurrently and improved kidney health in Col4a3 knockout–, folic acid–injured disease models and STZ-induced, BTBR ob/ob diabetic nephropathy models. Hence, we demonstrated the important role of PTENK27-polyUb in DKD and a promising therapeutic strategy that inhibited the progression of DKD.


Yajuan Li, Qingsong Hu, Chunlai Li, Ke Liang, Yu Xiang, Heidi Hsiao, Tina K. Nguyen, Peter K. Park, Sergey D. Egranov, Chandrashekar R. Ambati, Nagireddy Putluri, David H. Hawke, Leng Han, Mien-Chie Hung, Farhad R. Danesh, Liuqing Yang, Chunru Lin


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