Background: Small non-coding RNA molecules (miRNAs) play a pivotal role in regulating gene expression in development. miRNAs regulate key processes at the cellular level and thereby influence organismal and tissue development including kidney morphogenesis. A miRNA molecule is initially synthesized as a longer hairneedle-shaped RNA transcript and then processed through an enzymatic complex that contains the RNA-processing enzyme Drosha and its essential interactor Dgcr8. Resulting pre-miRNAs are then cleaved by Dicer. Recent data showed that loss of Dicer resulted in severe developmental kidney phenotypes. However, as Dicer has multiple miRNA-independent functions, it was not entirely clear whether the observed renal phenotypes could be exclusively attributed to a lack of miRNA expression.
Methods: We analyzed the role of miRNAs in kidney development by conditional gene deletion of Dgcr8 in the developing kidney using a transgenic mouse line that expresses Cre recombinase in the distal nephron and derivatives of the ureteric bud in kidney development.
Results: Animals with a gene deletion of Dgcr8 in these tissues developed severe hydronephrosis, kidney cysts, progressive renal failure and premature death within the first two months after birth, a phenotype strongly resembling Dicer deletion.
Conclusions: Here we show that conditional gene deletion of the essential miRNA-processing enzyme Dgcr8 in the developing renal tubular system results in severe developmental defects and kidney failure. These data confirm earlier findings obtained in Dicer knock-out animals and clearly illustrate the essential role of miRNAs in kidney development. The data suggests that miRNA dysregulation may play an important, yet ill-defined role in the pathogenesis of inborn defects of the genitourinary system and indicate that miRNA defects may be causative in the development of human disease.