Single-cell transcriptomes from human kidneys reveal the cellular identity of renal tumors

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Science  10 Aug 2018:
Vol. 361, Issue 6402, pp. 594-599
DOI: 10.1126/science.aat1699

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Pediatric and adult kidney tumors differ

Understanding tumor origins and the similarities and differences between organ-specific cancers is important for determining treatment options. Young et al. generated more than 72,000 single-cell transcriptomes from healthy and cancerous human kidneys. From these data, they determined that Wilms tumor, a pediatric kidney cancer, originates from aberrant fetal cells, whereas adult kidney cancers are likely derived from a specific subtype of proximal convoluted tubular cell.

Science, this issue p. 594


Messenger RNA encodes cellular function and phenotype. In the context of human cancer, it defines the identities of malignant cells and the diversity of tumor tissue. We studied 72,501 single-cell transcriptomes of human renal tumors and normal tissue from fetal, pediatric, and adult kidneys. We matched childhood Wilms tumor with specific fetal cell types, thus providing evidence for the hypothesis that Wilms tumor cells are aberrant fetal cells. In adult renal cell carcinoma, we identified a canonical cancer transcriptome that matched a little-known subtype of proximal convoluted tubular cell. Analyses of the tumor composition defined cancer-associated normal cells and delineated a complex vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) signaling circuit. Our findings reveal the precise cellular identities and compositions of human kidney tumors.

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