Excretory organs contain epithelial cells that form a filtration membrane specialized for ultrafiltration to produce primary urine. In vertebrates, the filtration membrane is made up of slit diaphragm (SD) formed by glomerular podocytes. Basal metazoans such as flatworms are also known have filtration epithelial cells, called flame cells, which exhibit SD-like structures. The molecular components of podocyte SD have been studied in detail, while those of the SD-like structures in basal metazoans including flatworms remain to be clarified. To determine whether the SD-like structures in flatworms have molecular components common to the SD in vertebrate podocytes, we examined the expression of gene homologue for mammalian nephrin, which encodes an essential transmembrane protein that participates in the formation of the SD, in a species of flatworms, planarian (Dugesia japonica). Flame cells were distributed throughout the entire body of the planarian, but the nephrin-expressing cells identified by in situ hybridization were mainly detected at body periphery excluding head region. The distribution pattern of nephrin-expressing cells was similar to that of proliferating cell nuclear antigen-expressing neoblasts, which are pluripotent stem cells characteristic to planarians. These findings indicated that the SD-like structures can be formed without the Nephrin protein in planarian flame cells.
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