FRAS1 is mutated in some individuals with Fraser syndrome (FS) and the encoded protein is expressed in embryonic epidermal cells, localizing in their basement membrane (BM). Syndactyly and cryptophthalmos in FS are sequelae of skin fragility but the bases for associated kidney malformations are unclear. We demonstrate that Fras1 is expressed in the branching ureteric bud (UB), and that renal agenesis occurs in homozygous Fras1 null mutant blebbed (bl) mice on a C57BL6J background. In vivo, the bl/bl bud fails to invade metanephric mesenchyme which undergoes involution, events replicated in organ culture. The expression of glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor and growth-differentiation factor 11 was defective in bl/bl renal primordia in vivo, whereas, in culture, the addition of either growth factor restored bud invasion into the mesenchyme. Mutant primordia also showed deficient expression of Hoxd11 and Six2 transcription factors, whereas the activity of bone morphogenetic protein 4, an anti-branching molecule, was upregulated. In wild types, Fras1 was also expressed by nascent nephrons. Foetal glomerular podocytes expressed Fras1 transcripts and Fras1 immunolocalized in a glomerular BM-like pattern. On a mixed background, bl mutants, and also compound mutants for bl and my, another bleb strain, sometimes survive into adulthood. These mice have two kidneys, which contain subsets of glomeruli with perturbed nephrin, podocin, integrin α3 and fibronectin expression. Thus, Fras1 protein coats branching UB epithelia and is strikingly upregulated in the nephron lineage after mesenchymal/epithelial transition. Fras1 deficiency causes defective interactions between the bud and mesenchyme, correlating with disturbed expression of key nephrogenic molecules. Furthermore, Fras1 may also be required for the formation of normal glomeruli.

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