1. We studied the distribution of human tissue kallikrein mRNA in normal and diseased kidney, using in situ hybridization, together with immunohistochemical localization of renal kallikrein protein. Materials studied were (a) normal tissue from kidneys removed because of localized renal carcinoma, (b) kidneys removed because of post-traumatic haemorrhage and (c) renal biopsy specimens from patients with membranous glomerulonephritis and nephrotic syndrome.
2. A 1.35 kb EcoRI fragment of human tissue kallikrein cDNA was labelled with [32P]dCTP using the random-primer technique, and used for in situ hybridization. A specific rabbit antibody to active human urinary kallikrein was employed for immunocytochemistry, using a peroxidase-antiperoxidase method.
3. By in situ hybridization, no tissue kallikrein gene expression was seen in the carcinoma nephrectomy specimens. Positive expression was seen in the trauma nephrectomy tissue, and in four of five nephrotic syndrome biopsies. In all kidneys, expression was confined to the renal cortex. The dominant site of gene expression was the distal tubule. Apart from one area of positive signal related to an epithelial cell of Bowman's capsule, expression was not observed in glomeruli. Expression was also seen in the walls of large- and medium-sized blood vessels.
4. By immunohistochemistry, the dominant site of immunoreactivity was the distal tubule. Dense staining was also seen in granular peripolar cells and in isolated parietal epithelial cells close to the vascular pole. Isolated immunoreactive cells were seen in the media of large- and medium-sized arteries.
5. The tissue kallikrein gene in the kidney may not be constitutively expressed, but is expressed in response to physiological or pathological stimuli. The dominant site of gene expression and tissue kallikrein localization is the distal tubule. Although kallikrein is present in granular peripolar cells in human kidney, mRNA was not located at this site. It is possible that kallikrein in these cells derives from absorption from glomerular filtrate. Tissue kallikrein mRNA and protein are present in the walls of blood vessels in human kidney. The significance of vascular kallikrein expression requires further investigation.