TNF ligand superfamily member 12, also known as TNF-related weak inducer of apoptosis (TWEAK), acts through its receptor, fibroblast growth factor-inducible 14 (Fn14), to mediate several key pathologic processes involved in tissue injury relating to lupus nephritis. To explore the potential for renal protection in lupus nephritis by targeting this pathway, we introduced the Fn14 null allele into the MRL-lpr/lpr lupus mouse strain. At 26-38 weeks of age, female Fn14-knockout MRL-lpr/lpr mice had significantly lower levels of proteinuria compared with female wild-type MRL-lpr/lpr mice. Furthermore, Fn14-knockout mice had significantly improved renal histopathology accompanied by attenuated glomerular and tubulointerstitial inflammation. There was a significant reduction in glomerular Ig deposition in Fn14-knockout mice, despite no detectable differences in either serum levels of antibodies or splenic immune cell subsets. Notably, we found that the Fn14-knockout mice displayed substantial preservation of podocytes in glomeruli and that TWEAK signaling directly damaged barrier function and increased filtration through podocyte and glomerular endothelial cell monolayers. Our results show that deficiency of the Fn14 receptor significantly improves renal disease in a spontaneous lupus nephritis model through prevention of the direct injurious effects of TWEAK on the filtration barrier and/or modulation of cytokine production by resident kidney cells. Thus, blocking the TWEAK/Fn14 axis may be a novel therapeutic intervention in immune-mediated proliferative GN.
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