Rebecca Wingert

Developmental Biology and Regeneration

Rebecca Wingert

Elizabeth and Michael Gallagher Assistant Professor
B.A. in English and B.S. in Biology, Muhlenberg College, Allentown, PA
Ph.D. in Cell and Developmental Biology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
Postdoctoral Research at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA
Office: 218 Galvin Life Science Center
Phone: 574-631-0907

Research Information


My laboratory studies the mechanisms that direct organ development and regeneration.  Currently, our primary focus is on the development and regeneration of the kidney.  The kidney performs several essential physiological jobs.  The kidney collects and excretes metabolic waste and also regulates water balance.  In addition, the kidney produces hormones that regulate blood production and blood pressure.  Because of these and other important functions, the loss of kidney activity has life-threatening consequences.  Our long-term goals are to discover new biomedical interventions that can be used to treat or prevent kidney disease.

Kidney diseases represent a growing global healthcare burden: they affect epidemic numbers of children and adults worldwide, and are steadily climbing in incidence.  Kidney diseases can be caused by congenital defects, acute and chronic injuries, malignancy, and as a secondary consequence of conditions like diabetes.  Progressive damage to the kidney abolishes its functions and causes end-stage-renal disease (ESRD), which requires renal replacement therapy. Current renal replacement strategies can prolong life but have significant limitations: dialysis is grueling for patients, and there is a long wait (often >10 years) for an organ transplant.  Taken together, there is a pressing need to identify innovative therapies to treat kidney disease and to identify renoprotective agents that could ameliorate and/or prevent kidney damage in various settings.

While kidney diseases are diverse in origin, many share a common trait: damage to the basic unit of the kidney called the nephron. Human kidneys vary in the number of nephrons they contain, ranging from several hundred thousand to over one million nephrons in a single kidney (Figure 1).  Each nephron is an epithelial tube that is highly specialized.  At one end of the nephron is a blood filter (or glomerulus) that interacts with the vasculature to collect fluid from the circulation.  The collected filtrate then passes through a long tubule that consists of a series of different epithelial cell types, or so-called segments (indicated by colored intervals in Figure 1).  Each tubule segment performs discrete tasks in modifying the filtrate by reabsorbing and secreting solutes—jobs that enable the retention of desirable nutrients and export of metabolic wastes.  The last portion of the nephron connects to a collecting duct.  Nephrons in mammalian kidneys have intricate loops and convolutions and are organized in arbor-like arrays, with the collected waste ultimately channeled into the bladder.

To date, the pathways that control how renal stem cells give rise to nephrons during kidney development are poorly understood.  Part of the reason for this is that the architecture and internal location of the kidney pose challenges for studying nephron development and dysfunction in mammalian models like the mouse. Knowledge about how nephron cell types form during nephrogenesis would be a powerful tool in understanding congenital kidney defects and could be useful in the design of regenerative therapies for kidney diseases where nephrons (or particular cells within them) are destroyed.

For some time, there has been experimental evidence that the kidney exhibits a limited capacity to regenerate.  Damage to epithelial cells in nephrons can be followed by a local regenerative response in which new nephron epithelial cells are made.  However, the molecular pathways that enable this type of nephron regeneration (and others) remain a mystery and their discovery is hampered by the aforementioned limitations of existing mammalian models.

To study how nephrons are made during development and regenerate after injury, we use the zebrafish, Danio rerio.  The zebrafish is an outstanding model for kidney research for numerous reasons.  First, zebrafish are a vertebrate species and share many similarities with more complex vertebrates like mammals.  For example, there is a high degree of conservation between gene function and basic cellular processes between zebrafish and mammals.   Zebrafish embryos develop outside the mother and are optically transparent (Figure 2A), enabling the direct visualization of organ development.  The embryo forms an anatomically simple kidney that is made up of two nephrons (Figure 2B).   Zebrafish nephrons are comprised of segments with epithelial cells that share gene expression signatures and ultrastructural traits with segments in mammalian nephrons (indicated by the shared color in analogous segments between Figures 1 and 2B). Importantly, there is a diverse arsenal of molecular tools now available to the zebrafish researcher, and these enable high-resolution study of cell biology and genetic analysis.  

Our research questions fall into two major categories:

(1) KIDNEY DEVELOPMENT RESEARCH: How do renal stem cells arise during development? How are nephrons constructed from renal stem/progenitor precursors?  We are seeking to identify the genetic requirements for making renal cells.  We perform genetic screens to isolate zebrafish with defects in nephron formation.  One benefit of this approach is that we can discover essential genes and signaling pathways that have never been implicated in renal progenitor biology.  In addition, we perform expression studies to identify factors expressed by kidney cells during nephrogenesis, then assign their functional roles using reverse genetics to knockdown the gene or overexpression techniques to examine gain-of-function.

(2) KIDNEY REGENERATION RESEARCH: How can damaged nephron components be replaced? Are there renal stem cells that can facilitate treatment of renal diseases?  Can differentiated nephron cells be induced to regenerate damaged nephrons?  Can the activation of kidney developmental pathways facilitate regeneration? We are using models of nephron injury in the embryo to discover the cell and molecular events that are required for nephron regeneration.  We have designed a novel technique using laser ablation in which particular nephron regions are targeted for cell destruction, and are examining how such regions regenerate.  Along with our nephron development studies, it is our hope that these lines of inquiry will shed novel insights into the activities of kidney cells and guide the creation of new therapeutics.


Research in the Wingert lab is supported by start-up funds provided by the University of Notre Dame College of Science and Department of Biological Sciences, and a gift from the Gallagher Family to support adult stem cell research at Notre Dame. Wingert lab research is supported from external grants from (1) the March of Dimes, Basil O’Connor Starter Scholar Award #5-FY12-75, (2) the National Institutes of Health, from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases through Grants K01DK083512 and R01 R01DK100237, and through the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award DP2OD008470.



Figure 1: Composition of the mammalian kidney. (Left) The mammalian kidney is a bean-shaped organ comprised of functional units known as nephrons (enlarged in center). (Right) Nephrons have a segmental anatomy, being comprised of regions of specialized epithelial cells that perform discrete excretory


tasks.  The major segments are indicated with different colors and segment names indicated. Abbreviations: PCT (proximal convoluted tubule), PST (proximal straight tubule), TAL (thick ascending limb), MD (macula densa), DCT (distal convoluted tubule), CD (collecting duct).

Figure 2: The zebrafish is a simple, conserved model in which to study kidney biology. (A) Lateral view of a zebrafish embryo two days after fertilization. The embryo is transparent, with limited pigmentation. (B) Lateral view schematic of the embryo, with the location of the kidney shown in purple. (Enlargement) Dorsal view of the embryonic kidney shows a pair of nephrons (top), with segmental anatomy indicated (bottom)


McKee R, Gerlach GF, Jou J, Cheng CN, Wingert RA. 2014. Temporal and spatial expression of tight junction genes during zebrafish pronephros development. Gene Expr Patterns 16 (Nov 7): 104-113. doi: 10.1016/j.gep.2014.11.001 (PDF)

Gerlach GF, Wingert RA. 2014. Zebrafish pronephros tubulogenesis and epithelial identity maintenance are reliant on the polarity proteins Prkc iota & zeta. Dev Biol In press doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2014.08.038 (PDF)
Morales E, Wingert RA. 2014. Renal stem cell reprogramming: prospects for regenerative medicine. World J Stem Cells 6(4): 458-466. doi: 10.4252/wjsc.v6.i4.458 (PDF)

Poureetezadi SJ, Donahue EK, Wingert RA. 2014. A manual small molecule screen approaching high–throughput using zebrafish embryos. J Vis Exp 93: Nov 8, e52063. doi: 10.3791/52063 (PDF)

McCampbell KK, Springer K, Wingert RA. 2014. Analysis of nephron composition and function in the adult zebrafish kidney. J Vis Exp (PDF)

Kroeger Jr PT, Wingert RA. 2014. Using zebrafish to study podocyte genesis during kidney development and regeneration. Genesis. Jun 11. doi: 10.1002/dvg.22798. [Epub ahead of print] (PDF)

Miceli R, Kroeger Jr PT, Wingert RA. 2014. Molecular mechanisms of podocyte development revealed by zebrafish kidney research. Cell Dev Biol 3: 138. doi:10.4172/2168-9296.1000138 (PDF)

Cheng CN, Li Y, Marra A, Verdun V, Wingert RA. 2014. Flat mount preparation for observation and analysis of fixed zebrafish embryo specimens. J Vis Exp 89: e51604. doi:10.3791/51604 (PDF)

Kroeger Jr PT, Poureetezadi SJ, McKee R, Jou J, Miceli R, Wingert RA. 2014. Production of haploid zebrafish embryos by in vitro fertilization. J Vis Exp 89: e51708. doi:10.3791/51708 (PDF)

Cheng CN, Wingert RA. 2014. Renal system development in the zebrafish: a basic model of the human kidney. Zebrafish: Topics in Reproduction & Development Ed. Carver E, and Lessman C. Nova Scientific Publishers In press (PDF)

Li Y, Cheng CN, Verdun V, Wingert RA. 2014. Zebrafish nephrogenesis is regulated by interactions between retinoic acid, mecom, and Notch signaling. Dev Biol 386(1): 111-122. j.ydbio.2013.11.021 [Epub ahead of print, 2013 Dec 3] (PDF)

Marra A, Wingert RA. 2014. Roles of Iroquois transcription factors in kidney development. Cell Dev Biol 3(1): 131. doi: 10.4172/2168-9296.1000131 (PDF)

McCampbell KK, Wingert RA. 2014. New tides: using zebrafish to study renal regeneration. Transl Res 163: 109-122. doi: pii: S1931-5244(13)00346-0.10.1016/j.trsl.2013.10.003 [Epub ahead of print, 2013 Oct 14] (PDF)

Kroeger Jr PT, Shoue DA, Mezzacappa FM, Gerlach GF, Wingert RA, Schulz RA. 2013. Knockdown of SCFSkp2 function causes double-parked accumulation in the nucleus and DNA re-replication in Drosophila plasmatocytes. PLoS One 8(10): e79019. (PDF)

Gerlach GF, Wingert RA. 2013. Kidney organogenesis in the zebrafish: insights into vertebrate nephrogenesis and regeneration. WIRES Dev Biol 2: 559-585. doi: 10.1002/wdev.92. Epub 2012 Oct 16. (PDF)

Poureetezadi SJ, Wingert RA. 2013. Congenital and acute kidney disease: translational research insights from zebrafish chemical genetics. General Med 1(3): 112. doi: 10.4172/2327-5146.1000112 (PDF)

Li, Y, Wingert RA. 2013. Regenerative medicine for the kidney: prospects and challenges. Clin Transl Med 2:11 doi: 10.1186/2001-1326-2-11 (PDF)

McCampbell KK, Wingert RA. 2012. Renal stem cells: fact or science fiction? Biochem J 444(2): 153-168. (PDF)

Johnson CS, Holzemer NF, Wingert RA. Laser ablation of the zebrafish pronephros to study renal epithelial regeneration. JoVE, 2011; 54., doi:10.3791/2845. (PDF)

Gerlach GF, Schrader, LN, Wingert RA. Dissection of the adult zebrafish kidney. JoVE, 2011; 54., doi: 10.3791/2839. (PDF)

O’Brien LL, Grimaldi M, Kostun Z, Wingert RA, Selleck R, Davidson AJ.  Wt1a, Foxc1a, and the Notch mediator Rbpj physically interact and regulate the formation of podocytes in zebrafish. Dev Biol, 2011; 358(2): 318-30. (PDF)

Wingert RA, Davidson AJ. Zebrafish nephrogenesis involves dynamic spatiotemporal expression changes in renal progenitors and essential signals from retinoic acid and irx3b. Dev Dyn, 2011; 240(8): 2011-2027. (PDF)

Lengerke C*, Wingert RA*, Beeretz M, Grauer M, Schmidt AG, Konantz M, Daley GQ, Davidson AJ. Interactions between Cdx genes and retinoic acid modulate early cardiogenesis. Dev Biol, 2011; 354(1): 134-142. *equal co-first author contribution. (PDF)

Diep CQ, Ma D, Deo RC, Holm TM, Naylor RW, Arora N, Wingert RA, Bollig F, Djordjevic G, Lichman B, Zhu H, Ikenaga T, Ono F, Englert C, Hukreiede NA, Handin RI, Davidson AJ. Identification of adult nephron progenitors capable of kidney regeneration in zebrafish. Nature, 2011; 470(7332): 95-100. (PDF)

Fraenkel P, Gibert Y, Holzheimer JL, Lattanzi VJ, Burnett SF, Dooley, KA, Wingert RA, Zon LI. Transferrin-a modulates hepcidin expression in zebrafish embryos. Blood, 2009; 113(12): 2843-50. (PDF)

Dooley KA, Fraenkel P, Langer NB, Schmid B, Davidson AJ, Weber G, Chiang K, Foott H, Dwyer C, Wingert RA, Zhou Y, Paw BH, Zon LI, Tübingen 2000 Screen Consortium. montalcino, a zebrafish model for variegate porphyria. Exp Hematol, 2008; 36(9): 1132-42. (PDF)

Wingert RA and Davidson AJ. The zebrafish pronephros: a model to study segmentation. Kid Int, 2008; 73(10): 1120-1127. (PDF)

Galloway JL, Wingert RA, Thisse C, Thisse B, and Zon LI. Combinatorial regulation of novel erythroid gene expression in zebrafish. Exp Hematol, 2008; 36(4): 424-432. (PDF)

Wingert RA, Selleck R, Yu J, Song HD, Chen Z, Song A, Zhou Y, Thisse B, Thisse C, McMahon A, and Davidson AJ. The cdx genes and retinoic acid control the positioning and segmentation of the zebrafish pronephros. PLoS Genet, 2007; 3(10): e189. (PDF)

Shaw GC, Cope JJ, Li L, Corson K, Hersey C, Ackermann GE, Gwynn B, Lambert AJ, Wingert RA, Traver D, Trede NS, Barut BA, Zhou Y, Minet E, Donovan A, Brownlie A, Balzan R, Weiss MJ, Peters LL, Kaplan J, Zon LI, and Paw BH. Mitoferrin is essential for erythroid iron assimilation. Nature, 2006; 440: 96-100. (PDF)

Wingert RA, Zon LI. Genetic dissection of hematopoiesis using the zebrafish. In: Hematopoietic Stem Cells, Ed. Godin I, and Cumano A. 2006: 18-36. Georgetown: Texas: Landes Bioscience. (PDF)

Wingert RA, Galloway JL, Barut B, Foott H, Fraenkel P, Axe J, Dooley K, Davidson AJ, Weber G, Paw B, Shaw G, Kingsley P, Palis J, Schubert H, Chen O, Kaplan J, Tübingen 2000 Screen Consortium, and Zon LI. glutaredoxin 5 deficiency reveals Fe/S clusters are required for vertebrate heme synthesis. Nature, 2005; 436: 1035-39. (PDF)

Galloway JL, Wingert RA, Thisse C, Thisse B, and Zon LI. Loss of Gata1 but not Gata2 converts erythropoiesis to myelopoiesis in zebrafish embryos. Dev Cell, 2005; 8: 109-116. (PDF)

Wingert RA, Brownlie A, Galloway JL, Dooley K, Fraenkel P, Axe J, Barut B, Davidson AJ, Noriega L, Sheng X, Zhou Y, and Zon LI. The chianti zebrafish mutant provides a model for erythroid-specific disruption of transferrin receptor 1. Development, 2004; 131: 6225-6235. (PDF)