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Estrogen Signaling Influences Nephron Segmentation of the Zebrafish Embryonic Kidney

Wesselman HM, Gatz AE, Pfaff MR, Arceri L, Wingert RA
Cells. 2023 Feb 20;12(4):666. doi:10.3390/cells12040666
Despite significant advances in understanding nephron segment patterning, many questions remain about the underlying genes and signaling pathways that orchestrate renal progenitor cell fate choices and regulate differentiation. In an effort to identify elusive regulators of nephron segmentation, our lab conducted a high-throughput drug screen using a bioactive chemical library and developing zebrafish, which are a conserved vertebrate model and particularly conducive to large-scale screening approaches. 17β-estradiol (E2), which is the dominant form of estrogen in vertebrates, was a particularly interesting hit from this screen. E2 has been extensively studied in the context of gonad development, but roles for E2 in nephron development were unknown. Here, we report that exogenous estrogen treatments affect distal tubule composition, namely, causing an increase in the distal early segment and a decrease in the neighboring distal late. These changes were noted early in development but were not due to changes in cell dynamics. Interestingly, exposure to the xenoestrogens ethinylestradiol and genistein yielded the same changes in distal segments. Further, upon treatment with an estrogen receptor 2 (Esr2) antagonist, PHTPP, we observed the opposite phenotypes. Similarly, genetic deficiency of the Esr2 analog, esr2b, revealed phenotypes consistent with that of PHTPP treatment. Inhibition of E2 signaling also resulted in decreased expression of essential distal transcription factors, irx3b and its target irx1a. These data suggest that estrogenic compounds are essential for distal segment fate during nephrogenesis in the zebrafish pronephros and expand our fundamental understanding of hormone function during kidney organogenesis.
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