The urothelium is a multilayered epithelium that serves as a barrier between the urinary tract and blood, preventing the exchange of water and toxic substances. It consists of superficial cells specialized for synthesis and transport of uroplakins that assemble into a tough apical plaque, one or more layers of intermediate cells, and keratin 5-expressing basal cells (K5-BCs), which are considered to be progenitors in the urothelium and other specialized epithelia. Fate mapping, however, reveals that intermediate cells rather than K5-BCs are progenitors in the adult regenerating urothelium, that P cells, a transient population, are progenitors in the embryo, and that retinoids are critical in P cells and intermediate cells, respectively, for their specification during development and regeneration. These observations have important implications for tissue engineering and repair and, ultimately, may lead to treatments that prevent loss of the urothelial barrier, a major cause of voiding dysfunction and bladder pain syndrome.
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