Newborn rats are not capable of producing concentrated urine. With development of the concentrating system and a hypertonic medullary interstitium, intracellular osmolytes, such as sorbitol, accumulate in the renal medulla. Sorbitol is produced from glucose in a reaction catalyzed by aldose reductase (AR). The purpose of this study was to establish the time of expression and distribution of AR in the developing rat kidney. Kidneys from 16-, 18-, and 20-day-old fetuses and 1-, 3-, 4-, 5-, 7-, 14-, and 21-day-old pups were processed for immunohistochemistry and immunoblot analysis. In adult animals, AR was expressed only in the inner medulla, in which it was localized in ascending thin limbs (ATLs), inner medullary collecting ducts (IMCDs), and interstitial cells. AR immunoreactivity was not detected in fetal kidneys but was observed in the terminal part of the descending thin limb and IMCD in the renal papilla of 1-day-old pups. At birth, all of the loops of Henle are configured as short loops and there are no ATLs. After birth, papillary thick ascending limbs are gradually transformed into ATLs by a process that involves apoptotic deletion of cells from the thick ascending limb. During this time, AR immunoreactivity appeared in the cells undergoing transformation in the ascending limb, beginning at the papillary tip and ascending to the border between the outer medulla and the inner medulla. However, there was no labeling of apoptotic cells. The expression of AR in both the ATL and the IMCD gradually increased during kidney development. We conclude that AR expression in the inner medulla coincides with the increase in medullary tonicity that is known to occur during the first 3 wk after birth. On the basis of the observation that only AR-negative cells were deleted by apoptosis in the differentiating ATL, we propose that AR may protect ATL cells against apoptosis.
- Ascending thin limb