Epithelial organs such as the intestine and skin have a relatively high rate of cell loss and thus require a reservoir of stem cells capable of both replacing the lost epithelia and maintaining the reservoir. Whether the kidney has such a stem cell niche has been a subject of great interest; the majority of data suggest that replacement of renal epithelial cells occurs via dedifferentiation and proliferation of existing tubular cells, while some studies demonstrate the presence of potential tubular stem cells in the renal interstitium. However, recent reports have suggested that the bone marrow may also be a source of stem cells for tubule turnover and/or repair. In this issue of the JCI, 2 groups explore the role of endogenous cells versus bone marrow–derived cells in mediating tubule repair. Duffield and colleagues demonstrate that bone marrow does contain cells capable of protecting the kidney from ischemic injury, but found that these cells do not act by direct incorporation into the repaired tubular segments. In contrast, Lin and coworkers found that some bone marrow–derived cells do appear to incorporate into the injured tubule as epithelial cells (see the related article beginning on page 1756). Importantly, both groups conclude that the majority of tubule repair occurs via proliferation of endogenous renal cells rather than incorporation of bone marrow–derived cells.
Diane Krause, Lloyd G. Cantley