Preterm birth is a leading cause of neonatal morbidity. Survivors have a greater risk for kidney dysfunction and hypertension. Little is known about the molecular changes that occur in the kidney of individuals born preterm. Here, we demonstrate that mice delivered two days prior to full term gestation undergo premature cessation of nephrogenesis, resulting in a lower glomerular density. Kidneys from preterm and term groups exhibited differences in gene expression profiles at 20- and 27-days post-conception, including significant differences in the expression of fat-soluble vitamin-related genes. Kidneys of the preterm mice exhibited decreased proportions of endothelial cells and a lower expression of genes promoting angiogenesis compared to the term group. Kidneys from the preterm mice also had altered nephron progenitor subpopulations, early Six2 depletion, and altered Jag1 expression in the nephrogenic zone, consistent with premature differentiation of nephron progenitor cells. In conclusion, preterm birth alone was sufficient to shorten the duration of nephrogenesis and cause premature differentiation of nephron progenitor cells. These candidate genes and pathways may provide targets to improve kidney health in preterm infants.
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