Engineering kidney cells: reprogramming and directed differentiation to renal tissues

Cell Tissue Res. 2017 Jul;369(1):185-197. doi: 10.1007/s00441-017-2629-5. Epub 2017 May 30.


Growing knowledge of how cell identity is determined at the molecular level has enabled the generation of diverse tissue types, including renal cells from pluripotent or somatic cells. Recently, several in vitro protocols involving either directed differentiation or transcription-factor-based reprogramming to kidney cells have been established. Embryonic stem cells or induced pluripotent stem cells can be guided towards a kidney fate by exposing them to combinations of growth factors or small molecules. Here, renal development is recapitulated in vitro resulting in kidney cells or organoids that show striking similarities to mammalian embryonic nephrons. In addition, culture conditions are also defined that allow the expansion of renal progenitor cells in vitro. Another route towards the generation of kidney cells is direct reprogramming. Key transcription factors are used to directly impose renal cell identity on somatic cells, thus circumventing the pluripotent stage. This complementary approach to stem-cell-based differentiation has been demonstrated to generate renal tubule cells and nephron progenitors. In-vitro-generated renal cells offer new opportunities for modelling inherited and acquired renal diseases on a patient-specific genetic background. These cells represent a potential source for developing novel models for kidney diseases, drug screening and nephrotoxicity testing and might represent the first steps towards kidney cell replacement therapies. In this review, we summarize current approaches for the generation of renal cells in vitro and discuss the advantages of each approach and their potential applications.

Keywords: Direct reprogramming; Kidney development; Kidney organoids; Renal regeneration; iPS reprogramming.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cellular Reprogramming Techniques / methods*
  • Cellular Reprogramming*
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Humans
  • Kidney* / cytology
  • Kidney* / metabolism
  • Tissue Engineering / methods*
  • Transcription Factors* / genetics
  • Transcription Factors* / metabolism


  • Transcription Factors