Modelling the ageing kidney.

We all get old. Whilst this can be graceful, it’s often associated with an increased incidence of physiological complications. Loss of kidney function in ageing may be mitigated against if we could identify changes at the earliest opportunity. However, studying this process in humans at a molecular and cellular level is extremely difficult, so model organisms are required.

British Heart Foundation funded research conducted at BU and led by Dr Paul Hartley has recently contributed to this field by looking at how fruit fly nephrocytes grow old. These cells, despite millions of years of evolution, share the same ‘filtration genes’ as human kidney cells called podocytes.

The research indicates that fruit fly nephrocytes grow old in a manner similar to podocytes and other kidney cells. This now sets the stage for future work aiming to identify biomarkers of failing kidneys.

The image shows different filtration proteins (denoted by different colours) on young (1 week) and old (6 week) nephrocytes. As the cells age, these filtration proteins are no longer maintained (arrow and asterisk) and the cells lose function. Scale bar = 25 microns.