Mapping kidney cellular complexity

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Science  18 May 2018:
Vol. 360, Issue 6390, pp. 709-710
DOI: 10.1126/science.aat7271

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The prevalence of kidney disease in the United States is ∼14%, with more than 600,000 patients with kidney failure. Despite the large and growing need for new therapies to treat kidney disease, few have been developed over the past two decades. The kidney's cellular complexity is partly to blame—its functional unit, the nephron, is composed of at least 13 different epithelial cell types, surrounded by an even larger array of supporting vascular, stromal, and immune cells. In disease states, various invading leukocytes and reactive parenchymal cell states further complicate the cellular landscape, making attempts to understand pathophysiology and identify therapeutic targets difficult. However, the advent of massively parallel single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq) is transforming our understanding of cellular diversity, offering an unbiased approach to profile not only complex tissues but entire organisms (1, 2). On page 758 of this issue, Park et al. (3) apply scRNA-seq to develop the first comprehensive gene expression atlas of the mouse kidney, use innovative analyses to transcriptionally characterize known cell types, and identify a new progenitor cell type. They also map the expression of monogenic and complex trait disease-associated genes to specific kidney cell types, providing new insight about cell types driving many kidney diseases.