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PLoS One. 2012;7(9):e44869. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0044869. Epub 2012 Sep 12.

A p53-Pax2 pathway in kidney development: implications for nephrogenesis.

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  • 1Section of Pediatric Nephrology, Department of Pediatrics, Tulane University Health Sciences Center, New Orleans, Louisiana, United States of America.


Congenital reduction in nephron number (renal hypoplasia) is a predisposing factor for chronic kidney disease and hypertension. Despite identification of specific genes and pathways in nephrogenesis, determinants of final nephron endowment are poorly understood. Here, we report that mice with germ-line p53 deletion (p53(-/-)) manifest renal hypoplasia; the phenotype can be recapitulated by conditional deletion of p53 from renal progenitors in the cap mesenchyme (CM(p53-/-)). Mice or humans with germ-line heterozygous mutations in Pax2 exhibit renal hypoplasia. Since both transcription factors are developmentally expressed in the metanephros, we tested the hypothesis that p53 and Pax2 cooperate in nephrogenesis. In this study, we provide evidence for the presence of genetic epistasis between p53 and Pax2: a) p53(-/-) and CM(p53-/-)embryos express lower Pax2 mRNA and protein in nephron progenitors than their wild-type littermates; b) ChIP-Seq identified peaks of p53 occupancy in chromatin regions of the Pax2 promoter and gene in embryonic kidneys; c) p53 binding to Pax2 gene is significantly more enriched in Pax2 -expressing than non-expressing metanephric mesenchyme cells; d) in transient transfection assays, Pax2 promoter activity is stimulated by wild-type p53 and inhibited by a dominant negative mutant p53; e) p53 knockdown in cultured metanephric mesenchyme cells down-regulates endogenous Pax2 expression; f) reduction of p53 gene dosage worsens the renal hypoplasia in Pax2(+/-) mice. Bioinformatics identified a set of developmental renal genes likely to be co-regulated by p53 and Pax2. We propose that the cross-talk between p53 and Pax2 provides a transcriptional platform that promotes nephrogenesis, thus contributing to nephron endowment.

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