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Identification of a foetal epigenetic compartment in adult human kidney


The mammalian kidney has extensive repair capacity; however, identifying adult renal stem cells has proven elusive. We applied an epigenetic marker of foetal cell origin (FCO) in diverse human tissues as a probe for developmental cell persistence, finding a 5.4-fold greater FCO proportion in kidney. Normal kidney FCO proportions averaged 49% with extensive interindividual variation. FCO proportions were significantly negatively correlated with immune-related gene expression and positively correlated with genes expressed in the renal medulla, including those involved in renal organogenesis (e.g., FGF2, PAX8, and HOXB7). FCO associated genes also mapped to medullary nephron segments in mouse and rat, suggesting evolutionary conservation of this cellular compartment. Renal cancer patients whose tumours contained non-zero FCO scores survived longer. The kidney appears unique in possessing substantial foetal epigenetic features. Further study of FCO-related gene methylation may elucidate regenerative regulatory programmes in tissues without apparent discrete stem cell compartments.

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