The erythroid growth factor erythropoietin (Epo) is produced by renal interstitial fibroblasts, called REP (renal Epo-producing) cells, in a hypoxia-inducible manner. In chronic kidney disease (CKD), REP cells lose their Epo-production ability, leading to renal anaemia. Concurrently, REP cells are suggested to be transformed into myofibroblasts, which are the major player of renal fibrosis. Although establishment of cultured cell lines derived from REP cells has been a long-term challenge, we here successfully established a REP-cell-derived immortalized and cultivable cell line (Replic cells) by using a genetically modified mouse line. Replic cells exhibited myofibroblastic phenotypes and lost their Epo-production ability, reflecting the situation in renal fibrosis. Additionally, we found that cell-autonomous TGFβ signalling contributes to maintenance of the myofibroblastic features of Replic cells. Furthermore, the promoters of genes for Epo and HIF2α, a major activator of Epo gene expression, were highly methylated in Replic cells. Thus, these results strongly support our contention that REP cells are the origin of myofibroblasts in fibrotic kidneys and demonstrate that cell-autonomous TGFβ signalling and epigenetic silencing are involved in renal fibrosis and renal anaemia, respectively, in CKD. The Replic cell line is a useful tool to further investigate the molecular mechanisms underlying renal fibrosis.
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