Fully Automated Evaluation of Total Glomerular Number and Capillary Tuft Size in Nephritic Kidneys Using Lightsheet Microscopy

J Am Soc Nephrol. 2017 Feb;28(2):452-459. doi: 10.1681/ASN.2016020232. Epub 2016 Aug 3.


The total number of glomeruli is a fundamental parameter of kidney function but very difficult to determine using standard methodology. Here, we counted all individual glomeruli in murine kidneys and sized the capillary tufts by combining in vivo fluorescence labeling of endothelial cells, a novel tissue-clearing technique, lightsheet microscopy, and automated registration by image analysis. Total hands-on time per organ was <1 hour, and automated counting/sizing was finished in <3 hours. We also investigated the novel use of ethyl-3-phenylprop-2-enoate (ethyl cinnamate) as a nontoxic solvent-based clearing reagent that can be handled without specific safety measures. Ethyl cinnamate rapidly cleared all tested organs, including calcified bone, but the fluorescence of proteins and immunohistochemical labels was maintained over weeks. Using ethyl cinnamate-cleared kidneys, we also quantified the average creatinine clearance rate per glomerulus. This parameter decreased in the first week of experimental nephrotoxic nephritis, whereas reduction in glomerular numbers occurred much later. Our approach delivers fundamental parameters of renal function, and because of its ease of use and speed, it is suitable for high-throughput analysis and could greatly facilitate studies of the effect of kidney diseases on whole-organ physiology.

Keywords: Immunology and pathology; glomerular endothelial cells; glomerular filtration rate; glomerulonephritis; immune complexes; kidney anatomy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Capillaries / pathology*
  • Female
  • Kidney / blood supply*
  • Kidney / pathology*
  • Kidney Diseases / pathology*
  • Kidney Glomerulus / pathology*
  • Mice
  • Microscopy
  • Organ Size