The proliferation and morphological differentiation of bovine kidney collecting-tubule epithelial cells has been examined as a function of substrata and plasma factors. Collecting kidney tubule explant maintained in vitro gave rise to two distinct cell populations; one was composed mostly of fibroblastic cells whereas the other was epithelioid (EP cells). The proliferation of fibroblastic cells when exposed to serum-supplemented medium was best expressed when cells were maintained on a basement membrane produced by bovine corneal endothelial cells. This basement membrane has a composition, which in previous studies has been shown to favor the proliferation of mesenchymal cells. In contrast, the proliferation of EP cells was best expressed when cells were maintained on a basement membrane produced by the mouse-derived endodermal cell line PF-HR-9 (HR-9-BM). This basement membrane has a biochemical composition very similar to the basement membrane underlying the kidney tubules. Although the fibroblast confluent monolayer maintained on bovine corneal endothelial cell extracellular matrix did not undergo morphogenesis, the confluent monolayer of EP cells maintained on HR-9-BM shows hemicyst formation, suggesting that they were capable of vectorial fluid transport. They also built a complex three-dimensional kidney tubulelike network. Some tubules became grossly visible and floated into the tissue culture medium, remaining tethered to the cell monolayer at either end of the tubule. On an ultrastructural level, the tubules consisted of cells held together with junctional complexes arranged so as to form a lumen. The smallest lumen were bordered by 2-3 cells, and the largest ones by 8-15 cells. The lumens of the larger tubules did contain granular fibrillar and amorphous debris. Low-density EP cell cultures maintained on HR-9-BM could be induced to proliferate at a rate approaching that of cultures exposed to serum when they were exposed to medium supplemented with high-density lipoprotein (HDL, 750 micrograms protein/ml) and transferrin (50 micrograms/ml). When exposed to HDL concentrations equal or lower than 250 micrograms protein/ml, low-density cultures proliferated at a slow rate and readily formed tubulelike structures. This observation indicates that EP cells do not need to reach confluence to undergo morphogenesis, and that HDL, which in the presence of transferrin supports the cell proliferation, can favor their differentiation into tubulelike structures once its concentration becomes limiting for mitogenesis.

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