There is much evidence that basement membranes, such as in the renal glomerulus, act as macromolecular sieves, restricting the passage of proteins. Cross-linking of matrix proteins, as occurs because of advanced glycosylation end products (AGEs) in diabetes, may have an effect on the sieving properties of the basement membrane. To test this hypothesis, Matrigel, a basement membrane-like matrix, was cross-linked with glycolaldehyde and control and cross-linked matrices compared. Control matrices allowed less bovine serum albumin to pass through than did cross-linked matrices, with sieving coefficients (SCs) of 0.38 ± 0.02 and 0.52 ± 0.02, respectively (P < 0.0005). The control matrices also allowed less cross-linked albumin through than did the cross-linked matrices: 0.13 ± 0.01 vs. 0.17 ± 0.02 (P < 0.002). The SCs of a series of fluorescein isothiocyanate dextrans (four sizes, Mr 16,000–168,000) were lower for the control matrix than for the cross-linked matrix (P < 0.03). In addition, the SC for glycated albumin (incubated with glucose-6-phosphate) was higher than that of normal albumin for both the control (P < 0.04) and cross-linked matrices (P < 0.001). These data indicate that cross-linking of the matrix increases permeability to macromolecules. Analysis of the data using fiber-matrix theory suggests that the mean fiber radius was increased in the cross-linked matrix. The data also indicate that glycated albumin filters through the matrices more easily than does normal albumin. In relation to the situation seen in vivo, it is possible that glycation of circulating proteins and AGE modification of glomerular basement membrane proteins may both contribute to the proteinuria seen in diabetes.

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