Pediatric Nephrology

, Volume 26, Issue 9, pp 1395–1406 | Cite as

Defining and redefining the nephron progenitor population

  • Caroline Hendry
  • Bree Rumballe
  • Karen Moritz
  • Melissa H. LittleEmail author


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 



We acknowledge Eleanor Wainwright and Dagmar Wilhelm for the images of Bcl2 protein localization within the developing kidney. We also acknowledge Kylie Georgas for technical assistance. CH is a Rosamond Siemon Postdoctoral Scholar. KM is a Senior Research Fellow and ML is a Principal Research Fellow with the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia. The research of the authors is supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia (ID631362) and the National institutes of Health (DK070136).


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Copyright information

© IPNA 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Caroline Hendry
    • 1
  • Bree Rumballe
    • 1
  • Karen Moritz
    • 2
  • Melissa H. Little
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Institute for Molecular BioscienceThe University of QueenslandSt. LuciaAustralia
  2. 2.School of Biomedical SciencesThe University of QueenslandSt. LuciaAustralia

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