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Detailed “kidney atlas” characterizes cells of the healthy adult kidney

In an advance that is dramatically deepening our understanding of normal kidney physiology, researchers have produced a reference source that shows in detail the way healthy adult human kidneys are organized at the cellular level. The kidney is a remarkable example of biological architecture, with a complex array of structures called nephrons, each consisting of many cell types. Together, these structures perform the critical job of regulating fluid and salt levels in the body, among other tasks. Subtle disruptions of kidney cell function can therefore lead to serious health consequences.

The NIDDK-led Kidney Precision Medicine Project (KPMP) seeks to revolutionize kidney care by identifying critical cells, pathways, and targets for potential novel kidney disease therapies and prevention strategies. To achieve this lofty goal, KPMP investigators first developed an intricate “atlas” of the healthy human kidney for comparison purposes. They accomplished this through a comprehensive analysis of kidney tissue biopsies ethically obtained from study volunteers. This atlas delineates the biology of individual cells in various parts of the nephron and its surrounding tissue, demonstrating how they are defined not only by their position in the kidney, but also by the precise molecular signatures of genes and proteins active within them. Through their analyses, the researchers also found areas within the nephron that might be vulnerable to damage resulting from low oxygen levels, and enhanced understanding of other aspects of kidney function.

The KPMP research team has made their kidney atlas available on the web to share this valuable new resource broadly with the research community. Thanks to these discoveries, KPMP scientists and other researchers are now poised to compare biopsies from diseased kidneys against this reference atlas to yield critical new insights into the causes of kidney diseases and new ways to prevent, diagnose, and treat them.

Hansen J, Sealfon R, Menon R, …Azeloglu EU; for the Kidney Precision Medicine Project. A reference tissue atlas for the human kidney. Sci Adv 8: eabn4965, 2022.

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