TGFβ-stimulated microRNA-21 utilizes PTEN to orchestrate AKT/mTORC1 signaling for mesangial cell hypertrophy and matrix expansion.
Transforming growth factor-β (TGFβ) promotes glomerular hypertrophy and matrix expansion, leading to glomerulosclerosis. MicroRNAs are well suited to promote fibrosis because they can repress gene expression, which negatively regulate the fibrotic process. Recent cellular and animal studies have revealed enhanced expression of microRNA, miR-21, in renal cells in response to TGFβ. Specific miR-21 targets downstream of TGFβ receptor activation that control cell hypertrophy and matrix protein expression have not been studied. Using 3'UTR-driven luciferase reporter, we identified the tumor suppressor protein PTEN as a target of TGFβ-stimulated miR-21 in glomerular mesangial cells. Expression of miR-21 Sponge, which quenches endogenous miR-21 levels, reversed TGFβ-induced suppression of PTEN. Additionally, miR-21 Sponge inhibited TGFβ-stimulated phosphorylation of Akt kinase, resulting in attenuation of phosphorylation of its substrate GSK3β. Tuberin and PRAS40, two other Akt substrates, and endogenous inhibitors of mTORC1, regulate mesangial cell hypertrophy. Neutralization of endogenous miR-21 abrogated TGFβ-stimulated phosphorylation of tuberin and PRAS40, leading to inhibition of phosphorylation of S6 kinase, mTOR and 4EBP-1. Moreover, downregulation of miR-21 significantly suppressed TGFβ-induced protein synthesis and hypertrophy, which were reversed by siRNA-targeted inhibition of PTEN expression. Similarly, expression of constitutively active Akt kinase reversed the miR-21 Sponge-mediated inhibition of TGFβ-induced protein synthesis and hypertrophy. Furthermore, expression of constitutively active mTORC1 prevented the miR-21 Sponge-induced suppression of mesangial cell protein synthesis and hypertrophy by TGFβ. Finally, we show that miR-21 Sponge inhibited TGFβ-stimulated fibronectin and collagen expression. Suppression of PTEN expression and expression of both constitutively active Akt kinase and mTORC1 independently reversed this miR-21-mediated inhibition of TGFβ-induced fibronectin and collagen expression. Our results uncover an essential role of TGFβ-induced expression of miR-21, which targets PTEN to initiate a non-canonical signaling circuit involving Akt/mTORC1 axis for mesangial cell hypertrophy and matrix protein synthesis.