The human urothelium consists of multiple clonal units, each maintained by a stem cell



Little is known about the clonal architecture of human urothelium. It is likely that urothelial stem cells reside within the basal epithelial layer, yet lineage tracing from a single stem cell as a means to show the presence of a urothelial stem cell has never been performed. Here, we identify clonally related cell areas within human bladder mucosa in order to visualize epithelial fields maintained by a single founder/stem cell. Sixteen frozen cystectomy specimens were serially sectioned. Patches of cells deficient for the mitochondrially encoded enzyme cytochrome c oxidase (CCO) were identified using dual-colour enzyme histochemistry. To show that these patches represent clonal proliferations, small CCO-proficient and -deficient areas were individually laser-capture microdissected and the entire mitochondrial genome (mtDNA) in each area was PCR amplified and sequenced to identify mtDNA mutations. Immunohistochemistry was performed for the different cell layers of the urothelium and adjacent mesenchyme. CCO-deficient patches could be observed in normal urothelium of all cystectomy specimens. The two-dimensional length of these negative patches varied from 2–3 cells (about 30 µm) to 4.7 mm. Each cell area within a CCO-deficient patch contained an identical somatic mtDNA mutation, indicating that the patch was a clonal unit. Patches contained all the mature cell differentiation stages present in the urothelium, suggesting the presence of a stem cell. Our results demonstrate that the normal mucosa of human bladder contains stem cell-derived clonal units that actively replenish the urothelium during ageing. The size of the clonal unit attributable to each stem cell was broadly distributed, suggesting replacement of one stem cell clone by another. Copyright © 2011 Pathological Society of Great Britain and Ireland. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.