Developmental biology

Calcium/NFAT signalling promotes early nephrogenesis.

PMID 21295565


A number of Wnt genes are expressed during, and are known to be essential for, early kidney development. It is typically assumed that their products will act through the canonical β-catenin signalling pathway. We have found evidence that suggests canonical Wnt signalling is not active in the early nephrogenic metanephric mesenchyme, but instead provide expressional and functional evidence that implicates the non-canonical Calcium/NFAT Wnt signalling pathway in nephrogenesis. Members of the NFAT (Nuclear Factor Activated in T cells) transcription factor gene family are expressed throughout murine kidney morphogenesis and NFATc3 is localised to the developing nephrons. Treatment of kidney rudiments with Cyclosporin A (CSA), an inhibitor of Calcium/NFAT signalling, decreases nephron formation--a phenotype similar to that in Wnt4(-/-) embryos. Treatment of Wnt4(-/-) kidneys with Ionomycin, an activator of the pathway, partially rescues the phenotype. We propose that the non-canonical Calcium/NFAT Wnt signalling pathway plays an important role in early mammalian renal development and is required for complete MET during nephrogenesis, potentially acting downstream of Wnt4.