Despite its apparent simplicity, the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans has a high rating as a model in molecular and developmental biology and biomedical research. C. elegans has no excretory system comparable with the mammalian kidney but many of the genes and molecular pathways involved in human kidney diseases are conserved in C. elegans. The plethora of genetic, molecular and imaging tools available in C. elegans has enabled major discoveries in renal research and advanced our understanding of the pathogenesis of genetic kidney diseases. In particular, studies in C. elegans have pioneered the fundamental role of cilia for cystic kidney diseases. In addition, proteins of the glomerular filtration barrier and podocytes are critical for cell recognition, assembly of functional neuronal circuits, mechanosensation and signal transduction in C. elegans. C. elegans has also proved tremendously valuable for aging research and the Von Hippel-Lindau tumor suppressor gene has been shown to modulate lifespan in the nematode. Further, studies of the excretory canal, membrane transport and ion channel function in C. elegans have provided insights into mechanisms of tubulogenesis and cellular homeostasis. This review recounts the way that C. elegans can be used to investigate various aspects of genetic and molecular nephrology. This model system opens up an exciting and new area of study of renal development and diseases.
Keywords: Aging; Caenorhabditis elegans; Cilia; Genetic kidney disease; Podocyte morphogenesis.