Authors:  Lovisa S, LeBleu VS, Tampe B, Sugimoto H, Vadnagara K, Carstens JL, Wu CC, Hagos Y, Burckhardt BC, Pentcheva-Hoang T, Nischal H, Allison JP, Zeisberg M, Kalluri R

Issue:  Nat Med. 2015 Sep;21(9):998-1009

PMID:  26236991


Kidney fibrosis is marked by an epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) of tubular epithelial cells (TECs). Here we find that, during renal fibrosis, TECs acquire a partial EMT program during which they remain associated with their basement membrane and express markers of both epithelial and mesenchymal cells. The functional consequence of the EMT program during fibrotic injury is an arrest in the G2 phase of the cell cycle and lower expression of several solute and solvent transporters in TECs. We also found that transgenic expression of either Twist1 (encoding twist family bHLH transcription factor 1, known as Twist) or Snai1 (encoding snail family zinc finger 1, known as Snail) expression is sufficient to promote prolonged TGF-β1-induced G2 arrest of TECs, limiting the cells' potential for repair and regeneration. In mouse models of experimentally induced renal fibrosis, conditional deletion of Twist1 or Snai1 in proximal TECs resulted in inhibition of the EMT program and the maintenance of TEC integrity, while also restoring cell proliferation, dedifferentiation-associated repair and regeneration of the kidney parenchyma and attenuating interstitial fibrosis. Thus, inhibition of the EMT program in TECs during chronic renal injury represents a potential anti-fibrosis therapy.