The myc family of protooncogenes encode similar but distinct nuclear proteins. Since N-myc, c-myc, and L-myc have been found to be expressed in the newborn kidney, we studied their expression during murine kidney development. By organ culture studies and in situ hybridization of tissue sections, we found that each of the three members of the myc gene family shows a remarkably distinct expression pattern during kidney development. It is known that mesenchymal stem cells of the embryonic kidney convert into epithelium if properly induced. We demonstrate the N-myc expression increases during the first 24 h of in vitro culture as an early response to induction. Moreover, the upregulation was transient and expression levels were already low during the first stages of overt epithelial cell polarization. In contrast, neither c-myc nor L-myc were upregulated by induction of epithelial differentiation. c-myc was expressed in the uninduced mesenchyme but subsequently became restricted to the newly formed epithelium and was not expressed in the surrounding loose mesenchyme. At onset of terminal differentiation c-myc expression was turned off also from the epithelial tubules. We conclude that N-myc is a marker for induction and early epithelial differentiation states. That the undifferentiated mesenchyme, unlike stromal cells of later developmental stages, express c-myc demonstrates that the undifferentiated mesenchymal stem cells are distinct from the stromal cells. The most astonishing finding, however, was the high level of L-myc mRNA in the ureter, ureter-derived renal pelvis, papilla, and collecting ducts. In the ureter, expression increased, rather than decreased, with advancing maturation and was highest in adult tissue. Our results suggest that each of the three members of the myc gene family are involved in quite disparate differentiation processes, even within one tissue.

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