Direct transcriptional reprogramming of adult cells to embryonic nephron progenitors

J Am Soc Nephrol. 2013 Sep;24(9):1424-34. doi: 10.1681/ASN.2012121143. Epub 2013 Jun 13.


Direct reprogramming involves the enforced re-expression of key transcription factors to redefine a cellular state. The nephron progenitor population of the embryonic kidney gives rise to all cells within the nephron other than the collecting duct through a mesenchyme-to-epithelial transition, but this population is exhausted around the time of birth. Here, we sought to identify the conditions under which adult proximal tubule cells could be directly transcriptionally reprogrammed to nephron progenitors. Using a combinatorial screen for lineage-instructive transcription factors, we identified a pool of six genes (SIX1, SIX2, OSR1, EYA1, HOXA11, and SNAI2) that activated a network of genes consistent with a cap mesenchyme/nephron progenitor phenotype in the adult proximal tubule (HK2) cell line. Consistent with these reprogrammed cells being nephron progenitors, we observed differential contribution of the reprogrammed population into the Six2(+) nephron progenitor fields of an embryonic kidney explant. Dereplication of the pool suggested that SNAI2 can suppress E-CADHERIN, presumably assisting in the epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) required to form nephron progenitors. However, neither TGFβ-induced EMT nor SNAI2 overexpression alone was sufficient to create this phenotype, suggesting that additional factors are required. In conclusion, these results suggest that reinitiation of kidney development from a population of adult cells by generating embryonic progenitors may be feasible, opening the way for additional cellular and bioengineering approaches to renal repair and regeneration.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cadherins / genetics
  • Cadherins / physiology
  • Cell Differentiation / physiology*
  • Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition / physiology
  • Genetic Testing / methods
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Homeodomain Proteins / genetics
  • Homeodomain Proteins / physiology
  • Humans
  • Kidney Tubules, Proximal / cytology*
  • Kidney Tubules, Proximal / physiology
  • Nephrons / cytology
  • Nephrons / embryology*
  • Phenotype
  • Snail Family Transcription Factors
  • Stem Cells / cytology*
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / physiology*
  • Transcription, Genetic / genetics*


  • Cadherins
  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • OSR1 protein, human
  • SIX1 protein, human
  • SNAI2 protein, human
  • Snail Family Transcription Factors
  • Transcription Factors