Sialic acid-containing glycoproteins on renal cells determine nucleation of calcium oxalate dihydrate crystals

John C. Lieske, F. Gary Toback, Sergio Deganello

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


Background. The interaction between the surfaces of renal epithelial cells and calcium oxalate dihydrate (COD), the most common crystal in human urine, was studied to identify critical determinants of kidney stone formation. Methods. A novel technique utilizing vapor diffusion of oxalic acid was employed to nucleate COD crystals onto the apical surface of living cells. Confluent monolayers were grown in the inner 4 wells of 24-well culture plates. To identify cell surface molecules that regulate crystal nucleation, cells were pretreated with a protease (trypsin or proteinase K) to alter cell surface proteins, neuraminidase to alter cell surface sialoglycoconjugates, or buffer alone. COD crystals were nucleated on the surface of cells by diffusion of oxalic acid vapor into a calcium-containing buffer overlying the cells. Crystal face-specific nucleation was evaluated by scanning electron microscopy. Results. Nucleation and growth of a COD crystal onto an untreated control cell occurred almost exclusively via its (001) face, an event rarely observed during COD crystallization. In contrast, when COD crystals were nucleated onto protease- or neuraminidase-treated cells, they did so via the (100) face of the crystal. Conclusions. Specific sialic acid-containing glycoproteins, and possibly glycolipids (sialoglycoconjugates), appear to be critical determinants of face-specific nucleation of COD crystals on the apical renal cell surface. We hypothesize that crystal retention within the nephron, and the subsequent development of a kidney stone, may result when the number or composition of these cell surface molecules is modified by genetic alterations, cell injury, or drugs in tubular fluid.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1784-1791
Number of pages8
JournalKidney international
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2001


  • Cell membrane
  • Crystallization
  • Kidney calculi
  • Neuraminidase
  • Protease
  • Renal stones
  • Sialoglycoconjugates

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Nephrology


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