Defining the variety of cell types in developing and adult human kidneys by single-cell RNA sequencing

The kidney is among the most complex organs in terms of the variety of cell types. The cellular complexity of human kidneys is not fully unraveled and this challenge is further complicated by the existence of multiple progenitor pools and differentiation pathways. Researchers disagree on the variety of renal cell types due to a lack of research providing a comprehensive picture and the challenge to translate findings between species. To find an answer to the number of human renal cell types, we discuss research that used single-cell RNA sequencing on developing and adult human kidney tissue and compares these findings to the literature of the pre-single-cell RNA sequencing era. We find that these publications show major steps towards the discovery of novel cell types and intermediate cell stages as well as complex molecular signatures and lineage pathways throughout development. The variety of cell types remains variable in the single-cell literature, which is due to the limitations of the technique.

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Fig: Schematic representation of nephrogenesis, starting with the interaction of the cap mesenchyme (CM) and ureteric bud (UB) in the nephrogenic zone.

Nevertheless, our analysis approaches an accumulated number of 41 identified cell populations of renal lineage and 32 of non-renal lineage in the adult kidney, and there is certainly much more to discover. There is still a need for a consensus on a variety of definitions and standards in single-cell RNA sequencing research, such as the definition of what is a cell type. Nevertheless, this early-stage research already proves to be of significant impact for both clinical and regenerative medicine, and shows potential to enhance the generation of sophisticated in vitro kidney tissue.

Schumacher, A., Rookmaaker, M.B., Joles, J.A. et al. Defining the variety of cell types in developing and adult human kidneys by single-cell RNA sequencing. npj Regen Med 6, 45 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41536-021-00156-w

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