Pediatric Nephrology

, Volume 26, Issue 9, pp 1395-1406

First online:

Defining and redefining the nephron progenitor population

  • Caroline HendryAffiliated withInstitute for Molecular Bioscience, The University of Queensland
  • , Bree RumballeAffiliated withInstitute for Molecular Bioscience, The University of Queensland
  • , Karen MoritzAffiliated withSchool of Biomedical Sciences, The University of Queensland
  • , Melissa H. LittleAffiliated withInstitute for Molecular Bioscience, The University of Queensland Email author 

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It has long been appreciated that the mammalian kidney arises via reciprocal interactions between an epithelial ureteric epithelium and the surrounding metanephric mesenchyme. More recently, lineage tracing has confirmed that the portion of the metanephric mesenchyme closest to the advancing ureteric tips, the cap mesenchyme, represents the progenitor population for the nephron epithelia. This Six2+Cited1+ population undergoes self-renewal throughout nephrogenesis while retaining the potential to epithelialize. In contrast, the Foxd1+ portion of the metanephric mesenchyme shows no epithelial potential, developing instead into the interstitial, perivascular, and possibly endothelial elements of the kidney. The cap mesenchyme rests within a nephrogenic niche, surrounded by the stroma and the ureteric tip. While the role of Wnt signaling in nephron induction is known, there remains a lack of clarity over the intrinsic and extrinsic regulation of cap mesenchyme specification, self-renewal, and nephron potential. It is also not known what regulates cessation of nephrogenesis, but there is no nephron generation in response to injury during the postnatal period. In this review, we will examine what is and is not known about this nephron progenitor population and discuss how an increased understanding of the regulation of this population may better explain the observed variation in final nephron number and potentially facilitate the reinitiation or prolongation of nephron formation.


Kidney development Nephron progenitor Cap mesenchyme Mesenchyme to epithelial transition Specification Self-renewal