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J Clin Invest. 2014 Jul;124(7):2963-76. doi: 10.1172/JCI71630. Epub 2014 Jun 17.

α-Intercalated cells defend the urinary system from bacterial infection.

Erratum in

  • J Clin Invest. 2014 Dec 1;124(12):5521.


α-Intercalated cells (A-ICs) within the collecting duct of the kidney are critical for acid-base homeostasis. Here, we have shown that A-ICs also serve as both sentinels and effectors in the defense against urinary infections. In a murine urinary tract infection model, A-ICs bound uropathogenic E. coli and responded by acidifying the urine and secreting the bacteriostatic protein lipocalin 2 (LCN2; also known as NGAL). A-IC-dependent LCN2 secretion required TLR4, as mice expressing an LPS-insensitive form of TLR4 expressed reduced levels of LCN2. The presence of LCN2 in urine was both necessary and sufficient to control the urinary tract infection through iron sequestration, even in the harsh condition of urine acidification. In mice lacking A-ICs, both urinary LCN2 and urinary acidification were reduced, and consequently bacterial clearance was limited. Together these results indicate that A-ICs, which are known to regulate acid-base metabolism, are also critical for urinary defense against pathogenic bacteria. They respond to both cystitis and pyelonephritis by delivering bacteriostatic chemical agents to the lower urinary system.

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