For more than 15 years, a major focus of our research has been on studying podocyte biology. We have contributed to the functional characterization of the podocyte actin cytoskeleton and its molecular regulators. Our work emphasized the importance of actin dynamics for podocyte plasticity and for glomerular filter function, and it showed that a dysregulation of the podocyte actin cytoskeleton contributes to kidney injury. At the time, in vitro and in vivo tools that were developed and employed in other research fields, had not been adapted by podocyte biologists. We were among the first to use biochemical assays to analyze protein-protein interactions in podocytes as well as genetic mouse models to study protein function in a podocyte-specific context in vivo. Furthermore, our work was among the first to suggest that the podocyte actin cytoskeleton can serve as a direct target for pharmaceutical intervention and therefore could be used for novel drug development. Since then, many investigators as well as pharmaceutical companies have been analyzing changes in the podocyte actin cytoskeleton in large-scale drug screening approaches.
In parallel to our kidney-focused research, we have also been studying signal transduction events in cardiac myocytes that regulate cardiac remodeling. We have identified a novel actin-binding protein, called myopodin, that is part of a Z-disc signaling complex and that can communicate with the nucleus. This work has helped to establish state-of-the-art cell culture as well as rodent models in the laboratory in order to study cardiac hypertrophy and underlying molecular mechanisms.