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Integr Comp Biol January 1, 2019; 59 (1): 29-47.

The Pronephros; a Fresh Perspective.

de Bakker BS , van den Hoff MJB , Vize PD , Oostra RJ .

Contemporary papers and book chapters on nephrology open with the assumption that human kidney development passes through three morphological stages: pronephros, mesonephros, and metanephros. Current knowledge of the human pronephros, however, appears to be based on only a hand full of human specimens. The ongoing use of variations in the definition of a pronephros hampers the interpretation of study results. Because of the increased interest in the anamniote pronephros as a genetic model for kidney organogenesis we aimed to provide an overview of the literature concerning kidney development and to clarify the existence of a pronephros in human embryos. We performed an extensive literature survey regarding vertebrate renal morphology and we investigated histological sections of human embryos between 2 and 8 weeks of development. To facilitate better understanding of the literature about kidney development, a referenced glossary with short definitions was composed. The most striking difference between pronephros versus meso- and metanephros is found in nephron architecture. The pronephros consists exclusively of non-integrated nephrons with external glomeruli, whereas meso- and metanephros are composed of integrated nephrons with internal glomeruli. Animals whose embryos have comparatively little yolk at their disposal and hence have a free-swimming larval stage do develop a pronephros that is dedicated to survival in aquatic environments. Species in which embryos do not have a free-swimming larval stage have embryos that are supplied with a large amount of yolk or that develop within the body of the parent. In those species the pronephros is usually absent, incompletely developed, and apparently functionless. Non-integrated nephrons were not identified in histological sections of human embryos. Therefore, we conclude that a true pronephros is not detectable in human embryos although the most cranial part of the amniote excretory organ is often confusingly referred to as pronephros. The term pronephros should be avoided in amniotes unless all elements for a functional pronephros are undeniably present.

PubMed ID: 30649320
Article link: Integr Comp Biol