Mouse kidney induction proceeds in vitro much as it does in vivo: the ureteric bud bifurcates to give collecting ducts while the mesenchyme condenses into aggregates which epithelialise and then elongate into tubules with glomerular and other nephron structures. We report here that the factor known as LIF (leukaemia inhibitory factor), which regulates the differentiation and growth of embryonic-stem (ES) and other cells in culture, has little effect in vitro on growth or on ureteric-bud morphogenesis other than to stimulate the bifurcation process. It does however exert a striking effect on the mesenchyme. At about four times the concentration required to inhibit ES-cell differentiation, LIF strongly but reversibly blocks the effects of metanephric mesenchyme induction: although mesenchyme condenses around growing duct tips, the number of mature nephrons that form over 6 days is reduced by 75% or more. The few nephrons that do develop in the presence of LIF probably come from mesenchyme already induced at the time of culture and are indistinguishable from those that form in controls as assayed by morphology, by X-gal staining of endogenous galactosidase and by antibodies to brush-border and CD15 antigens. There is a further unexpected feature of rudiments cultured in LIF which is absent in controls: they contain an unexpectedly high number of stable epithelialised aggregates that express laminin around their periphery and which do not develop further. These results argue that the process of nephrogenesis involves at least two distinct stages which can be blocked by LIF: the effect of the initial induction and the future development of epithelialised aggregates.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

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