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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2000 Apr 25;97(9):4695-700.

The mutated human gene encoding hepatocyte nuclear factor 1beta inhibits kidney formation in developing Xenopus embryos.

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  • 1Institut für Zellbiologie (Tumorforschung), Universitätsklinikum Essen, Essen, Germany.


The transcription factor hepatocyte nuclear factor 1beta (HNF1beta) is a tissue-specific regulator that also plays an essential role in early development of vertebrates. In humans, four heterozygous mutations in the HNF1beta gene have been identified that lead to early onset of diabetes and severe primary renal defects. The degree and type of renal defects seem to depend on the specific mutation. We show that the frameshift mutant P328L329fsdelCCTCT associated with nephron agenesis retains its DNA-binding properties and acts as a gain-of-function mutation with increased transactivation potential in transfection experiments. Expression of this mutated factor in the Xenopus embryo leads to defective development and agenesis of the pronephros, the first kidney form of amphibians. Very similar defects are generated by overexpressing in Xenopus the wild-type HNF1beta, which is consistent with the gain-of-function property of the mutant. In contrast, introduction of the human HNF1beta mutant R137-K161del, which is associated with a reduced number of nephrons with hypertrophy of the remaining ones and which has an impaired DNA binding, shows only a minor effect on pronephros development in Xenopus. Thus, the overexpression of both human mutants has a different effect on renal development in Xenopus, reflecting the variation in renal phenotype seen with these mutations. We conclude that mutations in human HNF1beta can be functionally characterized in Xenopus. Our findings imply that HNF1beta not only is an early marker of kidney development but also is functionally involved in morphogenetic events, and these processes can be investigated in lower vertebrates.

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