First published January 9, 2020 - More info
Adult renal proximal tubules are composed of terminally differentiated epithelial cells that exhibit few signs of proliferation over time. However, upon acute kidney injury (AKI), surviving epithelial cells can re-enter the mitotic cycle and express genes and proteins coincident with a dedifferentiated, more embryonic phenotype. While a stable, terminally differentiated cellular phenotype is thought to be maintained, at least in part, by epigenetic imprints that impart both active and repressive histone marks, it is unclear whether regenerating cells after injury need to replicate such marks to recover. To test whether renal epithelial cell regeneration is dependent on histone H3K4 methylation, we generated a mouse model that deleted the Paxip1 gene in mature renal proximal tubules. Paxip1 encodes the adaptor protein PTIP, which is part of an Mll3/4 histone H3K4 methyltransferase complex and is essential for embryonic development. Mice with PTIP deletions in the adult kidney proximal tubules were viable and fertile. Upon acute kidney injury, such mice failed to regenerate damaged tubules leading to scarring and interstitial fibrosis. The inability to repair damage was likely due to a failure to re-enter mitosis and reactivate regulatory genes such as Sox9, which is necessary for epithelial cell regeneration. PTIP deletion reduced histone H3K4 methylation in uninjured adult kidneys but did not significantly affect function or the expression of epithelial specific markers. A transient decrease in trimethylation was also observed in controls after AKI but returned to normal after repair. Strikingly, cell lineage tracing revealed that surviving PTIP mutant cells could alter their phenotype and lose epithelial markers. These data demonstrate that PTIP and associated MLL3/4 mediated histone methylation are needed for regenerating proximal tubules and to maintain or reestablish the cellular epithelial phenotype.