Background/Aims: Previously we have shown that activation of the nuclear factor (erythroid-derived 2)-like 2 (Nrf2)-antioxidant response element (ARE) attenuated hyperglycemia-induced damage in podocytes, but the molecular mechanism remains unknown. Methods: Tert-butylhydroquinone (t-BHQ) and small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) were used to regulate Nrf2 expression, while nicotinamide and siRNAs were used to regulate sirtuin 1 (Sirt1) activity and expression, respectively. Mitochondrial superoxide, membrane potential and ATP levels were measured to assess changes in mitochondrial function. Nephrin and synaptopodin expression were measured by western blot analysis. Human podocytes and db/db diabetic mice were used in this study. Results: t-BHQ pretreatment of human podocytes exposed to high glucose (HG) alleviated mitochondrial dysfunction, enhanced the expression of Sirt1, nephrin and synaptopodin and lowered BSA permeability compared with podocytes exposed to HG without t-BHQ pretreatment (p< 0.05). Human podocytes exposed to HG had more severe mitochondrial dysfunction, lower expression of Sirt1, synaptopodin and nephrin and higher BSA permeability than podocytes exposed to HG when Nrf2 expression was downregulated by siRNAs (p< 0.05). The protection provided by activation of the Nrf-ARE pathway in podocytes exposed to HG was partially diminished when Sirt1 expression or activity was decreased by siRNAs or inhibitor compared with podocytes exposed to HG and pretreated with t-BHQ (p< 0.05). When nicotinamide and t-BHQ were both administered to db/db mice, we observed higher levels of urinary albumin/creatinine, lower nephrin and synaptopodin expression, more severe mesangial matrix deposition, collagen deposition on pathological slides and mitochondrial structural damage in podocytes compared to db/db mice treated only with t-BHQ. Conclusions: Our findings suggest that crosstalk between Sirt1 and the Nrf2-ARE anti-oxidative pathway forms a positive feedback loop and that protection provided by t-BHQ activation of the Nrf2-ARE pathway in db/db mice is partly dependent on Sirt1.

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