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Development. 2007 Jul;134(13):2501-9. Epub 2007 May 30.

The ECM protein nephronectin promotes kidney development via integrin alpha8beta1-mediated stimulation of Gdnf expression.

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Department of Physiology, 1550 Fourth Street, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA 94143, USA.


Development of the metanephric kidney crucially depends on proper interactions between cells and the surrounding extracellular matrix. For example, we showed previously that in the absence of alpha8beta1 integrin, invasion by the ureteric bud into the metanephric mesenchyme is inhibited, resulting in renal agenesis. Here we present genetic evidence that the extracellular matrix protein nephronectin is an essential ligand that engages alpha8beta1 integrin during early kidney development. We show that embryos lacking a functional nephronectin gene frequently display kidney agenesis or hypoplasia, which can be traced to a delay in the invasion of the metanephric mesenchyme by the ureteric bud at an early stage of kidney development. Significantly, we detected no defects in extracellular matrix organization in the nascent kidneys of the nephronectin mutants. Instead, we found that Gdnf expression was dramatically reduced in both nephronectin- and alpha8 integrin-null mutants specifically in the metanephric mesenchyme at the time of ureteric bud invasion. We show that this reduction is sufficient to explain the agenesis and hypoplasia observed in both mutants. Interestingly, the reduction in Gdnf expression is transient, and its resumption presumably enables the nephronectin-deficient ureteric buds to invade the metanephric mesenchyme and begin branching. Our results thus place nephronectin and alpha8beta1 integrin in a pathway that regulates Gdnf expression and is essential for kidney development.

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