High ambient glucose activates intracellular signaling pathways to induce the expression of extracellular matrix and cytokines such as connective tissue growth factor (CTGF). Cell responses to CTGF in already glucose-stressed cells may act to transform the mesangial cell phenotype leading to the development of glomerulosclerosis. We analyzed cell signaling downstream of CTGF in high glucose-stressed mesangial cells to model signaling in the diabetic milieu. The addition of CTGF to primary human mesangial cells activates cell migration which is associated with a PKC-zeta-GSK3beta signaling axis. In high ambient glucose basal PKC-zeta and GSK3beta phosphorylation levels are selectively increased and CTGF-stimulated PKC-zeta and GSK3beta phosphorylation was impaired. These effects were not induced by osmotic changes. CTGF-driven profibrotic cell signaling as determined by p42/44 MAPK and Akt phosphorylation was unaffected by high glucose. Nonresponsiveness of the PKC-zeta-GSK3beta signaling axis suppressed effective remodeling of the microtubule network necessary to support cell migration. However, interestingly the cells remain plastic: modulation of glucose-induced PKC-beta activity in human mesangial cells reversed some of the pathological effects of glucose damage in these cells. We show that inhibition of PKC-beta with LY379196 and PKC-beta siRNA reduced basal PKC-zeta and GSK3beta phosphorylation in human mesangial cells exposed to high glucose. CTGF stimulation under these conditions again resulted in PKC-zeta phosphorylation and human mesangial cell migration. Regulation of PKC-zeta by PKC-beta in this instance may establish PKC-zeta as a target for constraining the progression of mesangial cell dysfunction in the pathogenesis of diabetic nephropathy.
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