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Development. 1993 Jul;118(3):777-84.

Large-scale normal cell death in the developing rat kidney and its reduction by epidermal growth factor.

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  • 1Department of Biology, University College London, UK.


Although normal cell death is known to occur in many developing vertebrate organs, it has not been thought to play an important part in the development of the mammalian kidney. We show here that normal cell death is found in both the nephrogenic region and medullary papilla of the developing rat kidney and, in each of these areas, it follows a distinct developmental time course. As many as 3% of the cells in these areas have a typical apoptotic morphology and the dead cells seem to be cleared rapidly (within 1-2 hours) by phagocytosis by neighbouring parenchymal cells. These values are similar to those in vertebrate neural tissues where 50% or more of the cells die during normal development, suggesting that large-scale death is a normal feature of kidney development. We also show that in vivo treatment with epidermal growth factor inhibits cell death in the developing kidney, consistent with the possibility that the cells normally die because they lack sufficient survival factors. Our findings suggest that the extent of normal cell death in developing animals is still greatly underestimated and they raise the possibility that many of these cell deaths may reflect limiting amounts of survival factors.

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