In autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease, cysts arise focally and disrupt normal renal tissue leading to renal failure. In the present study, we show that cyst-lining cells express the stem cell marker CD133. CD133+ progenitor cells isolated from polycystic kidney, carrying mutations of PKD genes, showed a dedifferentiated phenotype similar to CD133+ progenitor cells from normal kidney. However, these cells were more proliferative and presented a defective epithelial differentiation phenotype with respect to normal renal CD133+ cells as they were not able to express all tubular epithelial cell markers when cultured in epithelial differentiation medium. Polycystic CD133+ cells, in contrast to normal renal CD133+ cells, formed cysts in vitro in a three-dimensional culture system and in vivo when injected subcutaneously within Matrigel in SCID mice. Rapamycin treatment reduced in vitro proliferation of polycystic CD133+ cells and decreased cystogenesis both in vitro and in vivo. The in vitro epithelial differentiation was only partially improved by rapamycin. These results indicate that polycystic CD133+ cells retain a dedifferentiated phenotype and the ability to generate cysts.
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