Renal cell apoptosis in chronic obstructive uropathy: The roles of caspases

Luan D. Truong, Yeong Jin Choi, Chui Tsao Chun, Gustavo Ayala, David Sheikh-Hamad, George Nassar, Wadi N. Suki

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

78 Scopus citations


Background. Apoptosis of tubular and interstitial cells is well documented in kidneys with chronic obstructive uropathy (COU) and probably plays an important role in the pathogenesis of this condition. The molecular control of apoptosis in COU remains poorly understood. Apoptosis in general is known to proceed initially along distinct pathways, which later converge into a common arm characterized by orderly activation of caspases. Caspases are cytosolic enzymes that belong to a 12-member family and serve as effector molecules for apoptosis. The role of individual caspases in mediating renal cell apoptosis in kidneys with COU is studied. Methods. Kidneys were harvested from sham-operated mice and mice with COU created by left ureter ligation at days 4, 7, 15, 20, and 30. The following studies were performed: (1) determination of dried kidney weight; (2) in situ end labeling of fragmented DNA to detect apoptotic tubular and interstitial cells; (3) ribonuclease protection assay with specific anti-sense RNA probes for caspases 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, and 12 to detect the expression of individual caspases; (4) immunostaining for caspases; and (5) assay for caspase 3. To assess the role of caspases in COU-associated renal cell apoptosis, the frequencies of apoptotic tubular and interstitial cells were separately quantitated for each experimental time point, and their patterns of variation were correlated with those of individual caspases. Results. The obstructed kidneys showed progressive tissue loss (60% of control at day 15). Apoptosis of both tubular and interstitial cells was seen in obstructed kidneys. Tubular cell apoptosis peaked at four days after ureter ligation (13-fold of control), remained high between days 4 to 15, and thereafter decreased rapidly. Apoptotic interstitial cells were scanty initially, but gradually increased throughout the entire experiment. Apoptosis was minimal throughout the experiment in control and contralateral kidneys. In control and contralateral kidneys, caspases 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, and 9 mRNAs were expressed at low levels, whereas those for caspases 1, 11, and 12 were not detected. The obstructed kidneys displayed increased expression of all tested caspases. Caspases 1, 11, and 12 mRNAs were detected in obstructed kidneys in a common pattern characterized by a sharp increase at day 4, followed by a decrease until day 20, and a subsequent sharp increase until the end of the study at day 30. A similar pattern was noted for other caspases (2, 3, 6, 7, 8, and 9), which maximally reached twofold to fourfold that of controls. Immunostaining for caspases 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, and 9 showed the same pattern characterized by focal and weak expression in proximal tubules of control or contralateral kidney, contrasting with increased staining in atrophic or dilated tubules of obstructed kidneys. Interstitial cells also displayed staining for several caspases, which paralleled the increasing density of interstitial cells toward the end of the experiment. Caspase-3 assay showed a marked increased activity in obstructed kidneys that reached fourfold and sevenfold of control at days 4 and 30, respectively. The rise and fall of caspase mRNAs between days 4 and 30 paralleled a similar fluctuation in tubular cell apoptosis. The subsequent increase of mRNAs was correlated with a continuous rise of interstitial cell apoptosis. Conclusions. Urinary obstruction in mice induces apoptosis of both tubular and interstitial cells in the affected kidney in a distinctive pattern that parallels an increased expression of caspases. This correlation suggests that these caspases mediate COU-associated renal cell apoptosis. Among the evaluated caspases, increased renal caspase 3 activity implies its central role in renal cell apoptosis associated with urinary obstruction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)924-934
Number of pages11
JournalKidney international
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2001


  • Cell death
  • Cysteinyl aspartate-specific proteinase
  • Fibrosis
  • Interstitial cell apoptosis
  • Kidney injury
  • Tubular cell apoptosis
  • Urinary obstruction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Nephrology


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