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A role for Timeless in epithelial morphogenesis during kidney development

The National Academy of Sciences
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  • Biological Sciences


Central to the process of epithelial organogenesis is branching morphogenesis into tubules and ducts. In the kidney, this can be modeled by a very simple system consisting of isolated ureteric bud (UB) cells, which undergo branching morphogenesis in response to soluble factors present in the conditioned medium of a metanephric mesenchyme cell line. By employing a targeted screen to identify transcription factors involved early in the morphogenetic program leading to UB branching, we identified the mammalian ortholog of Timeless (mTim) as a potential immediate early gene (IEG) important in this process. In the embryo, mTim was found to be expressed in patterns very suggestive of a role in epithelial organogenesis with high levels of expression in the developing lung, liver, and kidney, as well as neuroepithelium. In the embryonic kidney, the expression of mTim was maximal in regions of active UB branching, and a shift from the large isoform of mTim to a smaller isoform occurred as the kidney developed. Selective down-regulation of mTim resulted in profound inhibition of embryonic kidney growth and UB morphogenesis in organ culture. A direct effect on the branching UB was supported by the observation that down-regulation of mTim in the isolated UB (cultured in the absence of mesenchyme) resulted in marked inhibition of morphogenesis, suggesting a key role for Tim in the epithelial cell morphogenetic pathway leading to the formation of branching tubules.

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