The renal cortical interstitium: morphological and functional aspects

Histochem Cell Biol. 2008 Aug;130(2):247-62. doi: 10.1007/s00418-008-0452-5. Epub 2008 Jun 25.


The renal interstitial compartment, situated between basement membranes of epithelia and vessels, contains two contiguous cellular networks. One network is formed by interstitial fibroblasts, the second one by dendritic cells. Both are in intimate contact with each other. Fibroblasts are interconnected by junctions and connected to basement membranes of vessels and tubules by focal adhesions. Fibroblasts constitute the "skeleton" of the kidney. In the renal cortex, fibroblasts produce erythropoietin and are distinguished from other interstitial cells by their prominent F-actin cytoskeleton, abundance of rough endoplasmic reticulum, and by ecto-5'-nucleotidase expression in their plasma membrane. The resident dendritic cells belong to the mononuclear phagocyte system and fulfil a sentinel function. They are characterized by their expression of MHC class II and CD11c. The central situation of fibroblasts suggests that signals from tubules, vessels, and inflammatory cells converge in fibroblasts and elicit an integrated response. Following tubular damage and inflammatory signals fibroblasts proliferate, change to the myofibroblast phenotype and increase their collagen production, potentially resulting in renal fibrosis. The acquisition of a profibrotic phenotype by fibroblasts in renal diseases is generally considered a main causal event in the progression of chronic renal failure. However, it might also be seen as a repair process.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • 5'-Nucleotidase / metabolism
  • Actins / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Dendritic Cells / metabolism*
  • Dendritic Cells / ultrastructure
  • Erythropoietin / biosynthesis
  • Fibroblasts / metabolism*
  • Fibroblasts / ultrastructure*
  • Fibrosis
  • Humans
  • Kidney Cortex / metabolism*
  • Kidney Cortex / ultrastructure*
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / metabolism
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / pathology
  • Mice
  • Nephritis, Interstitial / metabolism
  • Nephritis, Interstitial / pathology


  • Actins
  • Erythropoietin
  • 5'-Nucleotidase