Aberrant DNA methylation of mTOR pathway genes promotes inflammatory activation of immune cells in diabetic kidney disease

Guochun Chen, Huihui Chen, Shuyu Ren, Ming Xia, Jiefu Zhu, Yu Liu, Lei Zhang, Luosheng Tang, Lin Sun, Hong Liu, Zheng Dong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


DNA methylation has been implicated in the pathogenesis of diabetic kidney disease (DKD), but the underlying mechanisms remain unclear. In this study, we tested the hypothesis that aberrant DNA methylation in peripheral immune cells contributes to DKD progression. We showed that levels of DNA methyltransferase 1 (DNMT1), a key enzyme for DNA methylation, were increased along with inflammatory activity of peripheral blood mononuclear cells in DKD patients. Inhibition of DNMT1 with 5-aza-2'-deoxycytidine (5-Aza) markedly increased the proportion of CD4+CD25+ regulatory T cells in peripheral blood mononuclear cells in culture and in diabetic animals. Adoptive transfer of immune cells from 5-Aza-treated animals showed beneficial effects on the host immune system, resulting in a significant improvement of DKD. Using genome-wide DNA methylation assays, we identified the differentially methylated cytosines in the promoter regions of mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) regulators in peripheral blood mononuclear cells of diabetic patients. Further, mRNA arrays confirmed the consistent induction of genes expressed in the mTOR pathway. Importantly, down-regulation of DNMT1 expression via RNA interference resulted in prominent cytosine demethylation of mTOR negative regulators and subsequent decrease of mTOR activity. Lastly, modulation of mTOR resulted in changes in the effect of 5-aza on diabetic immune cells. Thus, up-regulation of DNMT1 in diabetic immune cells induces aberrant cytosine methylation of the upstream regulators of mTOR, leading to pathogenic activation of the mTOR pathway and consequent inflammation in diabetic kidneys. Hence, this study highlights therapeutic potential of targeting epigenetic events in immune system for treating DKD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)409-420
Number of pages12
JournalKidney International
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 2019


  • DNA methylation
  • DNA methyltransferase 1
  • chronic inflammation
  • diabetic kidney disease
  • mammalian target of rapamycin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Nephrology


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