Analysis of structure and gene expression in developing kidneys of male and female rats exposed to low protein diets in utero

Ryan J. Wood-Bradley, Sarah L. Henry, Sanna Barrand, Anais Giot, Luke Eipper, John F. Bertram, Luise A. Cullen-McEwen, James A. Armitage

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5 Citations (Scopus)


© 2020 American Association for Anatomy. A maternal low protein (LP) diet in rodents often results in low nephron endowment and renal pathophysiology in adult life, with outcomes often differing between male and female offspring. Precisely how a maternal LP diet results in low nephron endowment is unknown. We conducted morphological and molecular studies of branching morphogenesis and nephrogenesis to identify mechanisms and timepoints that might give rise to low nephron endowment. Sprague-Dawley rats were fed a normal protein (19.4% protein, NP) or LP (9% protein) diet for 3 weeks prior to mating and throughout gestation. Embryonic day 14.25 (E14.25) kidneys from males and females were either cultured for 2 days after which branching morphogenesis was quantified, or frozen for gene expression analysis. Real-time PCR was used to quantify expression of key nephrogenesis and branching morphogenesis genes at E14.25 and 17.25. At E17.25, nephron number was determined in fixed tissue. There was no effect of either maternal diet or sex on branching morphogenesis. Nephron number at E17.25 was 14% lower in male and female LP offspring than in NP controls. At E14.25 expression levels of genes involved in branching morphogenesis (Gfrα1, Bmp4, Gdnf) and nephrogenesis (Hnf4a, Pax2, Wnt4) were similar in the dietary groups, but significant differences between sexes were identified. At E17.25, expression of Gfrα1, Gdnf, Bmp4, Pax2 and Six2 was lower in LP offspring than NP offspring, in both male and female offspring. These findings provide new insights into how a LP diet leads to low nephron endowment and renal sexual dimorphism.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2657-2667
Number of pages11
JournalAnatomical Record
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2020


  • branching morphogenesis
  • developmental programming
  • kidney development
  • low protein
  • maternal nutrition
  • nephrogenesis
  • sexual dimorphism

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