Renal function is dependent on an organized vascular network which coordinates with renal nerves to maintain mammalian homeostasis. Despite their physiological significance, our understanding of how these networks are established and influence kidney development are extremely limited. Our long-term goal is to dissect neurovascular network formation and function during kidney development and apply these principles to understanding and treating kidney disease. We hypothesize that patterned neurovascular networks modulate kidney development through the localized release of signaling molecules. We rationalize that disruptions to normal neurovascular form and function will have implications for kidney development and physiology. This is significant to conditions such as congenital anomalies and neonatal acute kidney injury which could perturbate developing neurovascular networks and contribute to disease progression. To this end, we have pioneered efforts to interrogate the role of neurovascular networks in the developing mouse kidney. We have found that ablating nerves and disrupting the patterning of neurovascular networks results in hypoplastic kidneys with abnormal development. We predict that neurovascular cells release signaling factors that regulate kidney development and have identified candidate factors. Our proposal aims to: 1) determine how nerves mediate kidney development; 2) interrogate the role of neurovascular patterning in kidney development and implications for function; 3) investigate how neurovascular produced signals promote kidney development. We will utilize a combination of genetic mouse and human kidney organoid models, state-of-the-art imaging techniques, quantitative analyses, and various modern and novel methodologies to carry out our investigations and gain mechanistic insights. Adult renal physiology will be analyzed to understand how developmental phenotypes correlate and lead to compromised function. Together, our findings will provide novel insights and advance our understanding of the coordinated cellular functions required to establish a proper, functional kidney. Current treatment options for patients with advanced kidney disease are limited to dialysis and transplant. Clearly, new therapeutic strategies are necessary. Being able to engineer transplantable kidneys ex vivo or regenerate/repair them in vivo would help alleviate the need for dialysis and donor organs which are in short supply. However, to accomplish such feats requires a thorough understanding of how kidneys are formed during development, and the cellular interactions which drive this process which includes neurovascular networks.

Public Health Relevance

The vascular and neural networks of the kidney help maintain physiological homeostasis. Engineering new organs and regenerative therapies to treat disease will require the proper establishment of these networks, however, little to nothing is known about how neurovascular networks are formed in the kidney. Our proposed research will provide critical insights into how these networks are established, their influence on kidney development, and the implications of proper neurovascular development for physiological function.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK)
Research Project (R01)
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Kidney Molecular Biology and Genitourinary Organ Development (KMBD)
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Brunskill, Eric Wayne
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University of North Carolina Chapel Hill
Schools of Medicine
Chapel Hill
United States
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