Pericytes play an important role in the recovery process after ischemic injury of many tissues. Brain pericytes in the peri-infarct area express macrophage markers in response to injury stimuli and are involved in neovascularization. In the kidney, nerve/glial antigen 2 (NG2)+ pericytes have been found to accumulate after renal injury. These accumulated NG2+ cells are not involved in scar formation. However, the role of accumulated NG2+ cells in injured kidneys remains unknown. Here, using a reversible ischemia-reperfusion (I/R) model, we found that renal NG2+ cells were increased in injured kidneys and expressed macrophage markers (CD11b or F4/80) on day 3 after reperfusion. Isolated NG2+ cells from I/R kidneys also had phagocytic activity and expressed anti-inflammatory cytokine genes, including mannose receptor and IL-10. These macrophage-like NG2+ cells did not likely differentiate into myofibroblasts because they did not increase a-smooth muscle actin expression. Intravenous transfusion of renal NG2+ cells isolated from donor mice on day 3 after reperfusion into recipient mice on day 1 after I/R surgery revealed that NG2+ cell-injected mice had lower plasma blood urea nitrogen, reduced kidney injury molecule-1 mRNA expression, ameliorated renal damage, and reduced cellular debris accumulation compared with PBS-injected mice on day 5 after reperfusion. In conclusion, these data suggest that renal NG2+ cells have an M2 macrophage-like ability and play a novel role in facilitating the recovery process after renal I/R injury. NEW & NOTEWORTHY Brain pericytes have macrophage-like activities after injury. However, such properties of pericytes in peripheral tissues have not been investigated. Here, we provide evidence that nerve/glial antigen 2-positive cells increase after renal injury. The population of nerve/glial antigen 2-positive cells, which does not increase expression of myofibroblast-associated gene, express macrophage markers and anti-inflammatory cytokine genes, have phagocytic activity, and play a role in renal recovery after kidney injury.
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