microRNAs (miRNAs) are sequence-specific inhibitors of post-transcriptional gene expression. The physiologic function of these noncoding RNAs in postnatal renal tubules still remains unclear. Surprisingly, they appear to be dispensable for mammalian proximal tubule (PT) function. Here, we examined the effects of miRNA suppression in collecting ducts (CDs). To conclusively evaluate the role of miRNAs, we generated three mouse models with CD-specific inactivation of key miRNA pathway genes Dicer, Dgcr8, and the entire Argonaute gene family (Ago1, 2, 3, and 4). Characterization of these three mouse models revealed that inhibition of miRNAs in CDs spontaneously evokes a renal tubule injury-like response, which culminates in progressive tubulointerstitial fibrosis (TIF) and renal failure. Global miRNA profiling of microdissected renal tubules showed that miRNAs exhibit segmental distribution along the nephron and CDs. In particular, the expression of miR-200c is nearly 70-fold higher in CDs compared with PTs. Accordingly, miR-200s are downregulated in Dicer-KO CDs, its direct target genes Zeb1, Zeb2, and Snail2 are upregulated, and miRNA-depleted CDs undergo partial epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT). Thus, miRNAs are essential for CD homeostasis. Downregulation of CD-enriched miRNAs and the subsequent induction of partial EMT may be a new mechanism for TIF progression.
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