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Calcineurin inhibitors (CNIs) are vital immunosuppressive therapies in the management of inflammatory conditions. A long-term consequence is nephrotoxicity. In the kidneys, the primary, catalytic calcineurin (CnA) isoforms are CnAα and CnAβ. Although the renal phenotype of CnAα-/- mice substantially mirrors CNI-induced nephrotoxicity, the mechanisms downstream of CnAα are poorly understood. Since NADPH oxidase-2 (Nox2)-derived oxidative damage has been implicated in CNI-induced nephrotoxicity, we hypothesized that CnAα inhibition drives Nox2 upregulation and promotes oxidative stress. To test the hypothesis, Nox2 regulation was investigated in kidneys from CnAα-/-, CnAβ-/-, and wild-type (WT) littermate mice. To identify the downstream mediator of CnAα, nuclear factor of activated T cells (NFAT) and NF-κB regulation was examined. To test if Nox2 is transcriptionally regulated via a NF-κB pathway, CnAα-/- and WT renal fibroblasts were treated with the NF-κB inhibitor caffeic acid phenethyl ester. Our findings showed that cyclosporine A treatment induced Nox2 upregulation and oxidative stress. Furthermore, Nox2 upregulation and elevated ROS generation occurred only in CnAα-/- mice. In these mice, NF-κB but not NFAT activity was increased. In CnAα-/- renal fibroblasts, NF-κB inhibition prevented Nox2 upregulation and reactive oxygen species (ROS) generation. In conclusion, these findings indicate that 1) CnAα loss stimulates Nox2 upregulation, 2) NF-κB is a novel CnAα-regulated transcription factor, and 3) NF-κB mediates CnAα-induced Nox2 and ROS regulation. Our results demonstrate that CnAα plays a key role in Nox2 and ROS generation. Furthermore, these novel findings provide evidence of divergent CnA isoform signaling pathways. Finally, this study advocates for CnAα-sparing CNIs, ultimately circumventing the CNI nephrotoxicity.NEW & NOTEWORTHY A long-term consequence of calcineurin inhibitors (CNIs) is oxidative damage and nephrotoxicity. This study indicates that NF-κB is a novel calcineurin-regulated transcription factor that is activated with calcineurin inhibition, thereby driving oxidative damage in CNI nephropathy. These findings provide additional evidence of divergent calcineurin signaling pathways and suggest that selective CNIs could improve the long-term outcomes of patients by mitigating renal side effects.


Aswathy M Cheriyan, Adaku C Ume, Cynthia E Francis, Keyona N King, Valerie A Linck, Yun Bai, Hui Cai, Robert S Hoover, Heping P Ma, Jennifer L Gooch, Clintoria R Williams. Calcineurin A-α suppression drives nuclear factor-κB-mediated NADPH oxidase-2 upregulation. American journal of physiology. Renal physiology. 2021 May 01;320(5):F789-F798

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PMID: 33615888

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