Pax genes are important developmental regulators and function at multiple stages of vertebrate kidney organogenesis. In this report, we have used the zebrafish pax2.1 mutant no isthmus to investigate the role for pax2.1 in development of the pronephros. We demonstrate a requirement for pax2.1 in multiple aspects of pronephric development including tubule and duct epithelial differentiation and cloaca morphogenesis. Morphological analysis demonstrates that noi(−)larvae specifically lack pronephric tubules while glomerular cell differentiation is unaffected. In addition, pax2.1 expression in the lateral cells of the pronephric primordium is required to restrict the domains of Wilms' tumor suppressor (wt1) and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) gene expression to medial podocyte progenitors. Ectopic podocyte-specific marker expression in pronephric duct cells correlates with loss of expression of the pronephric tubule and duct-specific markers mAb 3G8 and a Na(+)/K(+) ATPase (α)1 subunit. The results suggest that the failure in pronephric tubule differentiation in noi arises from a patterning defect during differentiation of the pronephric primordium and that mutually inhibitory regulatory interactions play an important role in defining the boundary between glomerular and tubule progenitors in the forming nephron.

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