Clearly imaging and quantifying the kidney in 3D

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For decades, measurements of kidney microanatomy using 2-dimensional sections has provided us with a detailed knowledge of kidney morphology under physiological and pathological conditions. However, the rapid development of tissue clearing methods in recent years, in combination with the development of novel 3-dimensional imaging modalities have provided new insights into kidney structure and function. This review article describes a range of novel insights into kidney development and disease obtained recently using these new methodological approaches. For example, in the developing kidney these approaches have provided new understandings of ureteric branching morphogenesis, nephron progenitor cell proliferation and commitment, interactions between ureteric tip cells and nephron progenitor cells, and the establishment of nephron segmentation. In whole adult mouse kidneys, tissue clearing combined with light sheet microscopy can image and quantify the total number of glomeruli, a major breakthrough in the field. Similar approaches have provided new insights into the structure of the renal vasculature and innervation, tubulointerstitial remodeling, podocyte loss and hypertrophy, cyst formation, the evolution of cellular crescents, and the structure of the glomerular filtration barrier. Many more advances in the understanding of kidney biology and pathology can be expected as additional clearing and imaging techniques are developed and adopted by more investigators.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)780-786
Number of pages7
JournalKidney International
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2021


  • 3D imaging
  • glomerulus
  • kidney development
  • nephropathology
  • tissue clearing
  • tubules

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