Mutations in the leukemia inhibitory factor receptor (LIFR) gene andLifrdeficiency cause urinary tract malformations
Congenital anomalies of the kidneys and urinary tract (CAKUT) are the most common cause of chronic kidney disease in children. As CAKUT is a genetically heterogeneous disorder and most cases are genetically unexplained, we aimed to identify new CAKUT causing genes. Using whole-exome sequencing and trio-based de novo analysis, we identified a novel heterozygous de novo frameshift variant in the leukemia inhibitory factor receptor (LIFR) gene causing instability of the mRNA in a patient presenting with bilateral CAKUT and requiring kidney transplantation at one year of age. LIFR encodes a transmembrane receptor utilized by IL-6 family cytokines, mainly by the leukemia inhibitory factor (LIF). Mutational analysis of 121 further patients with severe CAKUT yielded two rare heterozygous LIFR missense variants predicted to be pathogenic in three unrelated patients. LIFR mutants showed decreased half-life and cell membrane localization resulting in reduced LIF-stimulated STAT3 phosphorylation. LIFR showed high expression in human fetal kidney and the human ureter, and was also expressed in the developing murine urogenital system. Lifr knockout mice displayed urinary tract malformations including hydronephrosis, hydroureter, ureter ectopia, and, consistently, reduced ureteral lumen and muscular hypertrophy, similar to the phenotypes observed in patients carrying LIFR variants. Additionally, a form of cryptorchidism was detected in all Lifr-/- mice and the patient carrying the LIFR frameshift mutation. Altogether, we demonstrate heterozygous novel or rare LIFR mutations in 3.3% of CAKUT patients, and provide evidence that Lifr deficiency and deactivating LIFR mutations cause highly similar anomalies of the urogenital tract in mice and humans.