1. A low protein diet prevents the development of proteinuria and glomerular damage in adriamycin experimental nephrosis without affecting renal haemodynamics. In this study the hypothesis was tested as to whether protein restriction is able to modulate the purine metabolic cycle and related enzymes such as xanthine oxidase, one of the putative effectors of adriamycin nephrotoxicity.

2. Renal activities of xanthine oxidase and purine nucleoside phosphorylase were markedly depressed in adriamycin-treated rats fed a 9% casein (low protein) diet compared with the group fed a 22% casein (normal protein) diet both 1 day after adriamycin administration and at the time of appearance of heavy proteinuria (day 15), whereas the activity of renal adenosine deaminase was unchanged.

3. The concentrations of the metabolic substrates of xanthine oxidase, i.e. hypoxanthine and xanthine, were constantly lower in renal homogenates of rats fed a low protein diet compared with those on a normal protein diet. In urine, uric acid, the product of hypoxanthine-xanthine transformation, was lower 1 day after adriamycin injection in protein-restricted rats compared with the group on a normal protein diet which showed a marked increase in its excretion. At the same time, the urinary efflux of adenosine 5′-monophosphate, which is the precursor nucleotide of the above-mentioned nucleosides and bases, was very high in rats fed a low protein diet, whereas it was absent in the group on a normal protein diet.

4. The progressive increment in proteinuria of glomerular origin (i.e. increased excretion of albumin and transferrin) typical of adriamycin-treated rats fed a normal protein diet was inhibited in the protein-restricted animals, which were normoproteinuric on day 10 and were only slightly proteinuric on day 15.

5. Like protein restriction, the pharmacological suppression of renal xanthine oxidase by dietary tungstate and the scavenging by dimethylthiourea of the putative free radical deriving from the action of xanthine oxidase, were associated with a similar (quantitative and qualitative) inhibition of glomerular proteinurea.

6. These data demonstrate that dietary protein restriction is associated with a block in purine metabolism within the kidney due to a marked reduction in the activities of two main enzymes of the cycle, i.e. purine nucleoside phosphorylase and xanthine oxidase, the latter being a putative effector of adriamycin nephrotoxicity. The partial reduction of proteinuria induced by a low protein diet is quantitatively and qualitatively comparable with the reduction induced by the specific block of renal xanthine oxidase or by the scavenging of OH · deriving from hypoxanthine and xanthine transformation. The crucial factor(s) determining protection against proteinuria in adriamycin nephrosis may be decreased xanthine oxidase activity in the kidney and inhibition of the O2 · and OH · production via the xanthine oxidase system.

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