Reduced cilia frequencies in human renal cell carcinomas versus neighboring parenchymal tissue

Sander G. Basten, Sven Willekers, Joost S P Vermaat, Gisela G G Slaats, Emile E. Voest, Paul J. van Diest, Rachel H. Giles

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Cilia are essential organelles in multiple organ systems, including the kidney where they serve as important regulators of renal homeostasis. Renal nephron cilia emanate from the apical membrane of epithelia, extending into the lumen where they function in flow-sensing and ligand-dependent signaling cascades. Ciliary dysfunction underlies renal cyst formation that is in part caused by deregulation of planar cell polarity and canonical Wnt signaling. Renal cancer pathologies occur sporadically or in heritable syndromes caused by germline mutations in tumor suppressor genes including VHL. Importantly, Von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) patients frequently develop complex renal cysts that can be considered a premalignant stage. One of the well-characterized molecular functions of VHL is its requirement for the maintenance of cilia. In this study, tissue from 110 renal cancer patients who underwent nephrectomy was analyzed to determine if lower ciliary frequency is a common hallmark of renal tumorigenesis by comparing cilia frequencies in both tumor and adjacent parenchymal tissue biopsies from the same kidney.Methods: We stained sections of human renal material using markers for cilia. Preliminary staining was performed using an immunofluorescent approach and a combination of acetylated-α-tubulin and pericentrin antibodies and DAPI. After validation of an alternative, higher throughput approach using acetylated-α-tubulin immunohistochemistry, we continued to manually quantify cilia in all tissues. Nuclei were separately counted in an automated fashion in order to determine ciliary frequencies. Similar staining and scoring for Ki67 positive cells was performed to exclude that proliferation obscures cilia formation potential.Results: Samples from renal cell carcinoma patients deposited in our hospital tissue bank were previously used to compose a tissue microarray containing three cores of both tumor and parenchymal tissue per patient. Cilia frequencies in a total of eighty-nine clear cell, eight papillary, five chromophobe renal cell carcinomas, two sarcomatoid renal tumors and six oncocytomas were determined. A marked decrease of primary cilia across renal cell carcinoma subtypes was observed compared to adjacent nontumorigenic tissue.Conclusions: Our study shows that cilia are predominantly lost in renal cell carcinomas compared to tissue of the tumor parenchyma. These results suggest that ciliary loss is common in renal tumorigenesis, possibly participating in the sequence of cellular events leading to malignant tumor development. Future therapies aimed at restoring or circumventing cilia signaling might therefore aid in current treatment efficacy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number2
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 31 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Chromophobe RCC
  • Cilia
  • Clear cell renal cell carcinoma
  • Histology
  • Kidney
  • Oncocytoma
  • Papillary RCC

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cell Biology


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