Human renal dysplasia is frequently associated with urinary tract obstruction and the abnormal expression of mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK). Here, we determined the renal responses and MAPK expression in developing kidneys that were obstructed in fetal lambs. Kidneys were harvested at various times after obstruction (gestation day 60) through normal term (day 145). Dilation of Bowman's capsule and proximal tubules was seen 2 days after obstruction and involved the whole cortex 18 days later, with numerous cysts present throughout the kidney at term. The proliferation marker Ki-67 and transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β) were detected 2 days after obstruction and progressively increased in tubules, cysts, and the interstitium. In control kidneys, p38 was expressed in tubules only during the fetal stage, whereas phosphorylated extracellular signal-regulated kinase (P-ERK) was limited to ureteric buds and collecting ducts at all stages examined. However, Jun-N-terminal kinase (JNK) was absent in the fetal kidney but present in tubules at term. In obstructed kidneys, cyst epithelia were positive for p38 and P-ERK but negative for JNK throughout all stages. These studies show that P-ERK correlated spatially and temporally with Ki-67 and TGF-β expression, which suggests that ERK may contribute to cyst formation and fibrosis in the obstructed fetal kidney.
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