A conditionally immortalized Gli1-positive kidney mesenchymal cell line models myofibroblast transition

Eoghainín Ó Hainmhire, Haojia Wu, Yoshiharu Muto, Erinn L. Donnelly, Flavia G. Machado, Lucy X. Fan, Monica Chang-Panesso, Benjamin D. Humphreys

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Glioma-associated oncogene homolog-1 (Gli1)-positive resident mesenchymal stem cell-like cells are the predominant source of kidney myofibroblasts in fibrosis, but investigating Gli1-positive myofibroblast progenitor activation is hampered by the difficulty of isolating and propagating primary cultures of these cells. Using a genetic strategy with positive and negative selection, we isolated Kidney-Gli1 (KGli1) cells that maintain expression of appropriate mesenchymal stem cell-like cell markers, respond to hedgehog pathway activation, and display robust myofibroblast differentiation upon treatment with transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β). Coculture of KGli1 cells with endothelium stabilizes capillary formation. Single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq) analysis during differentiation identified autocrine ligand-receptor pair upregulation and a strong focal adhesion pathway signal. This led us to test the serum response factor inhibitor CCG-203971 that potently inhibited TGF-β-induced pericyte-to-myofibroblast transition. scRNA-seq also identified the unexpected upregulation of nerve growth factor (NGF), which we confirmed in two mouse kidney fibrosis models. The Ngf receptor Ntrk1 is expressed in tubular epithelium in vivo, suggesting a novel interstitial-to-tubule paracrine signaling axis. Thus, KGli1 cells accurately model myofibroblast activation in vitro, and the development of this cell line provides a new tool to study resident mesenchymal stem cell-like progenitors in health and disease.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)F63-F75
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Renal Physiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2019


  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Fibrosis
  • Myofibroblast
  • Pericyte
  • Single-cell RNA sequencing
  • Transcriptomics
  • Transforming growth factor-β


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