The in vitro derivation of renal lineage progenitor cells is essential for renal cell therapy and regeneration. Despite extensive studies in the past, a protocol for renal lineage induction from embryonic stem cells remains unestablished. In this study, we aimed to induce renal lineages from mouse embryonic stem cells (mESC) by following in vivo developmental stages, i.e., the induction of mesoderm (Stage I), intermediate mesoderm (Stage II) and renal lineages (Stage III). For stage I induction, in accordance with known signaling pathways involved in mesoderm development in vivo, i.e., Nodal, bone morphogenic proteins (BMPs) and Wnt, we found that the sequential addition of three factors, i.e., Activin-A (A), a surrogate for Nodal signaling, during days 0-2, A plus BMP-4 (4) during days 2-4, and A4 plus lithium (L), a surrogate for Wnt signaling, during days 4-6, was most effective to induce the mesodermal marker, Brachyury. For stage II induction, the addition of retinoic acid (R) in the continuous presence of A4L during days 6-8 was most effective to induce nephrogenic intermediate mesodermal markers, such as Pax2 and Lim1. Under this condition, more than 30% of cells were stained positive for Pax2, and there was a concomitant decrease in the expression of non-mesodermal markers. For stage III induction, in resemblance to the reciprocal induction between ureteric bud (UB) and metanephric mesenchyme (MM) during kidney development, we found that the exposure to conditioned media derived from UB and MM cells was effective in inducing MM and UB markers, respectively. We also observed the emergence and gradual increase of cell populations expressing progenitor cell marker CD24 from Stage I to Stage III. These CD24(+) cells correlated with higher levels of expression of Brachyury at stage I, Pax2 and Lim1 at stage II and MM markers, such as WT1 and Cadherin 11, after exposure to UB-conditioned media at stage III. In conclusion, our results show that stepwise induction by tracing in vivo developmental stages was effective to generate renal lineage progenitor cells from mESC, and CD24 may serve as a useful surface marker for renal lineage cells at stage II and MM cells at stage III.
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