Previous studies of fetal urinary tract obstruction (bladder outlet obstruction and ureteral obstruction) in lambs have shown that obstructions created relatively early in gestation (4/10 to 6/10 term) can significantly affect growth of the developing kidney. This suggests that urinary tract obstruction in utero can alter normal mechanisms of kidney growth. However, a mechanism for these effects has not yet been proposed. In this study we have used mRNA expression analysis to characterize the temporal sequence of expression of several growth-regulated genes during normal ovine kidney development. The purpose of this study was to test the hypothesis that early obstructions, such as those believed to arise in congenital obstructive uropathy in humans, might have a disproportionate effect on hyperplastic growth if the cellular growth fraction (percent of cells in the organ undergoing DNA synthesis) was greater in the second trimester than in the last. Northern blot analysis of the cell cycle-dependent genes histone H3, c-myc and ornithine decarboxylase (ODC) indicated a progressive, gradual decline in cellular proliferation in the kidney from approximately 60 to 135 days (4/10 term to term) gestation, as evidenced by decreases in the respective mRNA levels. The greatest levels of cell proliferation occurred near the midpoint of gestation. This indirect measurement of decline in cellular growth fraction was reflected in direct measurements of change in relative kidney weight. To test whether this decline in mRNA levels occurs widely among genes expressed in the fetal kidney during this period, relative expression levels of more than 300 anonymous mRNA transcripts were evaluated by differential display analysis. This method showed that genes whose expression patterns resembled the growth-regulated genes constituted less than 5 percent of the expressed mRNAs identified. These data indicate that intrauterine urinary tract obstructions that arise at or near the midpoint of gestation coincide with the highest rates of cell proliferation occurring in the second and third trimesters and, therefore, might adversely affect mechanisms of cell proliferation.
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