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Renal pacemakers set the origin and frequency of the smooth muscle contractions that propel wastes from the kidney to the bladder. Although congenital defects impairing this peristalsis are a leading cause of pediatric renal failure, the mechanisms underlying renal pacemaker activity remain unknown. Using ratiometric optical mapping and video microscopy, we discovered that hyperpolarization-activated cation (HCN) channel block with the specific anatagonist ZD7288 (30 μm; IC50) abolished the pacemaker depolarizations that initiate murine upper urinary tract peristalsis. Optical mapping and immunohistochemistry indicate that pacemaker potentials are generated by cells expressing HCN isoform-3, and that HCN3(+) cells are coupled to definitive smooth muscle via gap junctions. Furthermore, we demonstrate that HCN3(+) cells coexpress T-type Ca(2+) (TTC) channels and that TTC channel inhibition with R(-)efonidipine or NNC55-0396 decreased contractile frequency in a dose-dependent manner. Collectively, these data demonstrate that HCN3(+)/TTC(+) cells are the pacemakers that set the origin and rate of upper urinary tract peristalsis. These results reveal a conserved mechanism controlling autorhythmicity in 2 distinct muscle types, as HCN and TTC channels also mediate cardiac pacemaker activity. Moreover, these findings have translational applications, including the development of novel diagnostics to detect fetal urinary tract motility defects prior to renal damage.-Hurtado, R., Bub, G., Herzlinger, D. A molecular signature of tissues with pacemaker activity in the heart and upper urinary tract involves coexpressed hyperpolarization-activated cation and T-type Ca(2+) channels.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





730 - 739


ion channels, kidney, optical mapping, peristalsis, smooth muscle, Animals, Dihydropyridines, Hyperpolarization-Activated Cyclic Nucleotide-Gated Channels, Immunohistochemistry, Kidney, Mice, Muscle Contraction, Muscle, Smooth, Nitrophenols, Organophosphorus Compounds, Peristalsis, Urinary Tract