A method to maintain and rebuild ureteric bud (UB)-like structures from UB cells in vitro could provide a useful tool for kidney regeneration. We aimed in our present study to establish a serum-free culture system that enables the expansion of UB progenitor cells, i.e., UB tip cells, and reconstruction of UB-like structures. We found that fibroblast growth factors or retinoic acid (RA) was sufficient for the survival of UB cells in serum-free condition, while the proliferation and maintenance of UB tip cells required glial cell-derived neurotrophic factor together with signaling from either WNT-β-catenin pathway or RA. The activation of WNT-β-catenin signaling in UB cells by endogenous WNT proteins required R-spondins. Together with Rho kinase inhibitor, our culture system facilitated the expansion of UB tip cells to form UB-like structures from dispersed single cells. The UB-like structures thus formed retained the original UB characteristics and integrated into the native embryonic kidneys.
Keywords: R-spondin; branching morphogenesis; fibroblast growth factor; kidney progenitor cells; retinoic acid; ureteric bud.
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