Kidney stem cells in development, regeneration and cancer

Semin Cell Dev Biol. 2014 Dec;36:57-65. doi: 10.1016/j.semcdb.2014.08.003. Epub 2014 Aug 13.


The generation of nephrons during development depends on differentiation via a mesenchymal to epithelial transition (MET) of self-renewing, tissue-specific stem cells confined to a specific anatomic niche of the nephrogenic cortex. These cells may transform to generate oncogenic stem cells and drive pediatric renal cancer. Once nephron epithelia are formed the view of post-MET tissue renal growth and maintenance by adult tissue-specific epithelial stem cells becomes controversial. Recently, genetic lineage tracing that followed clonal evolution of single kidney cells showed that the need for new cells is constantly driven by fate-restricted unipotent clonal expansions in varying kidney segments arguing against a multipotent adult stem cell model. Lineage-restriction was similarly maintained in kidney organoids grown in culture. Importantly, kidney cells in which Wnt was activated were traced to give significant clonal progeny indicating a clonogenic hierarchy. In vivo nephron epithelia may be endowed with the capacity akin to that of unipotent epithelial stem/progenitor such that under specific stimuli can clonally expand/self renew by local proliferation of mature differentiated cells. Finding ways to ex vivo preserve and expand the observed in vivo kidney-forming capacity inherent to both the fetal and adult kidneys is crucial for taking renal regenerative medicine forward. Some of the strategies used to achieve this are sorting human fetal nephron stem/progenitor cells, growing adult nephrospheres or reprogramming differentiated kidney cells toward expandable renal progenitors.

Keywords: Cancer stem cells; Kidney regeneration; Kidney stem cells; NCAM1; Nephric progenitor cells; SIX2.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult Stem Cells / cytology
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Epithelial Cells / cytology
  • Humans
  • Kidney / cytology*
  • Kidney / embryology*
  • Mesoderm / cytology
  • Multipotent Stem Cells / cytology*
  • Organogenesis / physiology*
  • Stem Cells / cytology*
  • Wilms Tumor / metabolism
  • Wnt Proteins / metabolism
  • Wnt Signaling Pathway


  • Wnt Proteins