Cellular apoptosis and proliferation in experimental renal fibrosis

Nephrol Dial Transplant. 1998 Sep;13(9):2216-26. doi: 10.1093/ndt/13.9.2216.


Background: The progression of chronic renal failure (CRF) is associated with the progressive deletion of renal cells along with the fibrosis of the kidney. We have studied the role of programmed cell death (apoptosis) in the progression of experimental CRF and renal scarring.

Methods: The sub-total (5/6th) nephrectomy (SNx) model of CRF was studied in adult male Wistar rats, with renal tissue collected from experimental and control animals on days 7, 15, 30, 60, 90, and 120 post SNx (n = 6 per group). These were examined for morphological signs of apoptosis by light and electron microscopy. Further, we stained the nuclear chromatin by the acridine orange fluorescent method and detected signs of DNA cleavage by endonucleases via the principal of TUNEL staining (ApopTag). Rates of cellular proliferation were measured simultaneously by immunohistochemical staining for the proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA). In addition, cell division was monitored by counting of morphologically mitotic motifs detectable by light microscopy.

Results: Progressive renal insufficiency associated with glomerulosclerosis and tubulointerstitial fibrosis took place in the majority of SNx rats. In these animals, we noted a marked and progressive increase in the number of apoptotic glomerular, tubular as well as interstitial cells. The most significant apoptotic changes were seen in the tubules of remnant kidneys peaking at day 120 post-SNx. At this stage, the increase in apoptosis compared to controls was 10.33+/-2.67 (M+/-SEM) fold for glomerular cells (P< or =0.006), 26.20+/-4.56 fold for tubular cells (P < 0.0001) and 4.66+/-0.81 fold for interstitial cells (P< or =0.001). Parallel changes in the number of PCNA positive renal cells were observed. Maximal PCNA staining was seen at day 120 when the increase with respect to controls was 14.00+/-4.93 fold (P< or = 0.05) for glomerular cells, 60.01+/-12.20 fold (P< or =0.05) for tubular cells and 28.59+/-4.45 fold (P< or = 0.05) for interstitial cells. As expected, the number of cells undergoing division and detectable by conventional light microscopy was lower at any time point to those expressing PCNA. We also observed a close correlation between the severity of tubular atrophy and tubulointerstitial fibrosis with the rate of tubular apoptosis (r=0.970, R2 =0.941, P< or =0.001).

Conclusions: We have shown a time-dependent increase in apoptosis and PCNA antigen positive staining in the sub-total nephrectomy model of chronic renal failure correlating with the progression of renal fibrosis. PCNA staining did not match analysis for mitosis and was considered to overestimate the number of proliferating cells in the tissue. With this reservation in mind and taking into account the relative time-frames in vivo of apoptosis and proliferation; apoptosis potentially outweighs proliferation by a factor of 2 8-fold, when examined over the same time period. Consequently, even small changes in the finite numbers of apoptotic cells become highly significant. Our results have shown the definite role of apoptosis within progression of renal damage and highlighted how it may contribute to the progression of tubular atrophy and play a role in the pathogenesis of tubulo-interstitial scarring.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / physiology*
  • Cell Division / physiology
  • Fibrosis
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • In Situ Nick-End Labeling
  • Kidney / metabolism
  • Kidney / pathology*
  • Kidney / physiopathology
  • Kidney Diseases / metabolism
  • Kidney Diseases / pathology*
  • Kidney Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Proliferating Cell Nuclear Antigen / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Staining and Labeling


  • Proliferating Cell Nuclear Antigen