Urine is produced in the kidney by excretory nephrons and is drained by a tree-like system of collecting ducts to the ureter. The collecting ducts develop by arborisation of an initially unbranched epithelial rudiment, the ureteric bud, which ramifies through the surrounding mesenchyme and induces the formation of nephrons by mesenchyme-to-epithelial transition. The question of how collecting duct morphogenesis is controlled is an important one, from the points of view of both basic developmental biology and congenital renal pathology (multi- and polycystic renal disease, and some forms of renal agenesis, arise from defective collecting duct development). We report that neurturin, a neurotrophin related to glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor and expressed in the developing kidney, acts as a collecting duct morphogen in culture. Applied in culture medium, it promotes epithelial branching and can induce branch initiation that has otherwise been blocked by depleting cultured kidneys of their sulfated proteoglycans or by antibody treatments. Applied locally on agarose beads, neurturin induces supernumerary ureteric buds to emerge from the wolffian duct and causes nearby collecting duct branches to distend to an abnormally large diameter. Like its receptors, neurturin is expressed by the developing collecting ducts themselves, suggesting that it forms an autocrine morphoregulatory control loop. This is in marked contrast to previously identified morphogens such as glial cell line derived neurotrophic factor and hepatocyte growth factor, which act in a paracrine manner.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)284-292
Number of pages9
JournalDevelopmental Genetics
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - May 17 1999


  • Branching morphogenesis
  • Collecting duct
  • Kidney
  • Neurturin
  • Ramogen


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