Purpose of review: The introduction of Caenorhabditis elegans by Sydney Brenner to study 'how genes might specify the complex structures found in higher organisms' revolutionized molecular and developmental biology and pioneered a new research area to study organ development and cellular differentiation with this model organism. Here, we review the role of the nematode in renal research and discuss future perspectives for its use in molecular nephrology.
Recent findings: Although C. elegans does not possess an excretory system comparable with the mammalian kidney, various studies have demonstrated the conserved functional role of kidney disease genes in C. elegans. The finding that cystic kidney diseases can be considered ciliopathies is based to a great extent on research studying their homologues in the nematode's ciliated neurons. Moreover, proteins of the kidney filtration barrier play important roles in both correct synapse formation, mechanosensation and signal transduction in the nematode. Intriguingly, the renal cell carcinoma disease gene product von-Hippel-Lindau protein was shown to regulate lifespan in the nematode. Last but not least, the worm's excretory system itself expresses genes involved in electrolyte and osmotic homeostasis and may serve as a valuable tool to study these processes on a molecular level.
Summary: C. elegans has proven to be an incredibly powerful tool in studying various aspects of renal function, development and disease and will certainly continue to do so in the future.