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Histochem Cell Biol. 2008 Jul;130(1):141-55. doi: 10.1007/s00418-008-0433-8. Epub 2008 May 1.

Origin of renal myofibroblasts in the model of unilateral ureter obstruction in the rat.

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Anatomical Institute, University of Zürich, Winterthurestr. 190, 8057, Zurich, Switzerland.


Tubulo-interstitial fibrosis is a constant feature of chronic renal failure and it is suspected to contribute importantly to the deterioration of renal function. In the fibrotic kidney there exists, besides normal fibroblasts, a large population of myofibroblasts, which are supposedly responsible for the increased production of intercellular matrix. It has been proposed that myofibroblasts in chronic renal failure originate from the transformation of tubular cells via epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) or from infiltration by bone marrow-derived precursors. Little attention has been paid to the possibility of a transformation of resident fibroblasts into myofibroblasts in renal fibrosis. Therefore we examined the fate of resident fibroblasts in the initial phase of renal fibrosis in the classical model of unilateral ureter obstruction (UUO) in the rat. Rats were perfusion-fixed on days 1, 2, 3 and 4 after ligature of the right ureter. Starting from 1 day of UUO an increasing expression of alpha-smooth muscle actin (alphaSMA) in resident fibroblasts was revealed by immunofluorescence and confirmed by the observation of bundles of microfilaments and webs of intermediate filaments in the electron microscope. Inversely, there was a decreased expression of 5'-nucleotidase (5'NT), a marker of renal cortical fibroblasts. The RER became more voluminous, suggesting an increased synthesis of matrix. Intercellular junctions, a characteristic feature of myofibroblasts, became more frequent. The mitotic activity in fibroblasts was strongly increased. Renal tubules underwent severe regressive changes but the cells retained their epithelial characteristics and there was no sign of EMT. In conclusion, after ureter ligature, resident peritubular fibroblasts proliferated and they showed progressive alterations, suggesting a transformation in myofibroblasts. Thus the resident fibroblasts likely play a central role in fibrosis in that model.

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