Researchers in the Wingert lab identify new genetic components involved in kidney development

Author: Rebecca Wingert



A study conducted by a team of scientists in the laboratory of Rebecca Wingert, assistant professor, Elizabeth and Michael Gallagher Family Professorship in Adult Stem Cell Research in the Department of Biological Sciences, has provided novel insights into the genetic program of kidney cell development.

The research project, “Zebrafish nephrogenesis is regulated by interactions between retinoic acid, mecom, and Notch signaling” was published recently in the prestigious biomedical journal Developmental Biology. The study was led by Yue (Zoe) Li, currently a fourth year graduate student in Biological Sciences, with contributions from her co-authors Christina Cheng, currently a second year graduate student in Biological Sciences, and Valerie Verdun, a current senior undergraduate Biology major.                                        

Kidney diseases that arise from congenital defects and acquired conditions affect millions worldwide, with the current estimate that one in nine people will be affected by a kidney condition in their lifetime. Kidney diseases are caused by defects in nephrons, specialized tubules that normally work to cleanse the blood and control water and electrolyte balance. Understanding how nephron cells arise during development and how they can be replaced following injury are crucial areas of research for stem cell biologists.

In their study, Li, et al. used the zebrafish to interrogate the functional role of several genes during kidney formation. Zebrafish contain nephrons that are highly similar to humans, and thus provide an applicable research model to perform nephrology research. The researchers identified several unappreciated functions of the zinc finger transcription factor mecom, uncovering that this gene is needed to properly form a segment of cells located in the distal part of the nephron tubule. They also determined the cross-talk between mecom and two other signaling pathways that are necessary for normal nephron development.

These studies help to define the genetic regulatory networks that program renal lineage development. Knowledge about these networks is vital for future studies aimed at triggering the regeneration of nephron cell types in the context of kidney disease.

Contact: Rebecca A. Wingert, 574-631-0907


Originally published by Rebecca Wingert at on April 30, 2014.