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Am J Transplant. 2005 Jun;5(6):1367-74.

Epithelial to mesenchymal transition during late deterioration of human kidney transplants: the role of tubular cells in fibrogenesis.

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  • 1Medicine, Division of Nephrology and Transplantation Immunology, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada.


The hallmark of failing renal transplants is tubular atrophy and interstitial fibrosis (TA/IF). Injury to tubular epithelial cells (TEC) could contribute to fibrogenesis via epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT). We examined the features of EMT in renal transplants that developed TA/IF. Biopsies from 10 allograft kidneys with impaired function and TA/IF and 10 biopsies from transplants with stable function were compared to their implantation biopsies. Relative to implantation biopsies, TEC in TA/IF kidneys showed loss of epithelial markers (E-cadherin, cytokeratin) with altered distribution. Some TEC also showed new cytoplasmic expression of mesenchymal markers vimentin, S100A4, and alpha smooth muscle actin (alpha-SMA) and collagen synthesis marker heat shock protein (HSP-47), both in deteriorating and atrophic tubules. Double immunostaining showed coexpression of cytokeratin and vimentin, S100A4 and HSP-47, indicating intermediate stages of EMT in TA/IF. These changes were absent or much less in transplants with stable function. EMT features in the TA/IF group correlated with serum creatinine (vimentin, S100A4, HSP-47), history of T-cell-mediated rejection (cytokeratin, S100A4) and proteinuria (cytokeratin). These findings support a model in which the TEC damage induces loss of epithelial features and expression of fibroblast features, as a common pathway of deterioration by either immunologic or nonimmunologic processes.

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