Ultramorphological Characteristics of Podocyte Development in the Human Fetal Metanephros

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The aim of this study was to determine the developmental characteristics of podocytes in the human fetal metanephros using scanning electron microscopy, light microscopy, and transmission electron microscopy. Kidney samples of 15 human fetuses of both sexes (gestational age 10–22 weeks) were analyzed. At the S-shaped body stage, primitive podocytes were arranged in a layer of cuboidal cells beneath the vascular cleft. When observed from Bowman’s space, the demarcation between adjacent podocytes was not clear, but mild depressions indicated cell boundaries. At the more advanced S-shaped body stage, podocytes were polygonal, with a flat apical surface. They were in close contact, but boundaries between adjacent cells were distinct. After initial separation of their apical parts, podocytes continued to separate from each other along their lateral sides. Their shape changed from polygonal to spherical, resembling clusters of grapes. Cytoplasmic buds could be seen at the base of some podocytes initially, when all podocytes were spherical. Parallel with the development of the first capillary loops, wider intercellular spaces were noted between elliptical-shaped podocytes. Podocytes then developed cytoplasmic processes and became flattened and star shaped. Their cell bodies separated from the glomerular basement membrane through the insertion of thick processes under the cell body. Thick primary processes ramified to form the foot processes, which interdigitated on the surface of capillary loops. During the capillary loop stage, the degree of differentiation of the podocytes varied among various glomerular regions, as well as within the same capillary loop.

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