Smooth muscle cells (SMCs) are a crucial component of the mesenchymal wall of the ureter, as they account for the efficient removal of the urine from the renal pelvis to the bladder by means of their contractile activity. Here, we show that the zinc-finger transcription factor gene Gata6 is expressed in mesenchymal precursors of ureteric SMCs under the control of BMP4 signaling. Mice with a conditional loss of Gata6 in these precursors exhibit a delayed onset and reduced level of SMC differentiation and peristaltic activity, as well as dilatation of the ureter and renal pelvis (hydroureternephrosis) at birth and at postnatal stages. Molecular profiling revealed a delayed and reduced expression of the myogenic driver gene Myocd, but the activation of signaling pathways and transcription factors previously implicated in activation of the visceral SMC program in the ureter was unchanged. Additional gain-of-function experiments suggest that GATA6 cooperates with FOXF1 in Myocd activation and SMC differentiation, possibly as pioneer and lineage-determining factors, respectively.

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