Genetic interactions regulating intermediate stages of tubulogenesis in the developing kidney have been difficult to define. A systems biology strategy using microarray was combined with in vitro/ex vivo and genetic approaches to identify pathways regulating specific stages of tubulogenesis. Analysis of the progression of the metanephric mesenchyme (MM) through four stages of tubule induction and differentiation (i.e., epithelialization, tubular organization and elongation and early differentiation) revealed signaling pathways potentially involved at each stage and suggested key roles for a number of signaling molecules. A screen of the signaling pathways on in vitro/ex vivo nephron formation implicated a unique regulatory role for protein kinase A (PKA), through PKA-2, in a specific post-epithelialization morphogenetic step (conversion of the renal vesicle to the S-shaped body). Microarray analysis not only confirmed this stage-specificity, but also highlighted the upregulation of Wnt genes. Addition of PKA agonists to LIF-induced nephrons (previously shown to be a Wnt/beta-catenin dependent pathway) disrupted normal tubulogenesis in a manner similar to PKA-agonist treated MM/spinal-cord assays, suggesting that PKA regulates a Wnt-dependent tubulogenesis step. PKA induction of canonical Wnt signaling during tubulogenesis was confirmed genetically using MM from Batgal-reporter mice. Addition of a Wnt synthesis inhibitor to activated PKA cultures rescued tubulogenesis. By re-analysis of existing microarray data from the FGF8, Lim1 and Wnt4 knockouts, which arrest in early tubulogenesis, a network of genes involving PKA, Wnt, Lhx1, FGF8, and hyaluronic acid signaling regulating the transition of nascent epithelial cells to tubular epithelium was derived, helping to reconcile in vivo and in vitro/ex vivo data.
© 2012 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.