Progressive renal papillary calcification and ureteral stone formation in mice deficient for Tamm-Horsfall protein.
ABSTRACT Mammalian urine contains a range of macromolecule proteins that play critical roles in renal stone formation, among which Tamm-Horsfall protein (THP) is by far the most abundant. While THP is a potent inhibitor of crystal aggregation in vitro and its ablation in vivo predisposes one of the two existing mouse models to spontaneous intrarenal calcium crystallization, key controversies remain regarding the role of THP in nephrolithiasis. By carrying out a long-range follow-up of more than 250 THP-null mice and their wild-type controls, we demonstrate here that renal calcification is a highly consistent phenotype of the THP-null mice that is age and partially gene dosage dependent, but is gender and genetic background independent. Renal calcification in THP-null mice is progressive, and by 15 mo over 85% of all the THP-null mice develop spontaneous intrarenal crystals. The crystals consist primarily of calcium phosphate in the form of hydroxyapatite, are located more frequently in the interstitial space of the renal papillae than intratubularly, particularly in older animals, and lack accompanying inflammatory cell infiltration. The interstitial deposits of hydroxyapatite observed in THP-null mice bear strong resemblances to the renal crystals found in human kidneys bearing idiopathic calcium oxalate stones. Compared with 24-h urine from the wild-type mice, that of THP-null mice is supersaturated with brushite (calcium phosphate), a stone precursor, and has reduced urinary excretion of citrate, a stone inhibitor. While less frequent than renal calcinosis, renal pelvic and ureteral stones and hydronephrosis occur in the aged THP-null mice. These results provide direct in vivo evidence indicating that normal THP plays an important role in defending the urinary system against calcification and suggest that reduced expression and/or decreased function of THP could contribute to nephrolithiasis.