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Kidney: Nephron structure and function

Describe the different regions, and what they do. Include adaptations to functions. Use diagrams
and images to assist your explanation. You should include a description of the counter-current
multiplier. Also, address osmoregulation, and the mechanism by which it is achieved.

The Nephron and Histology

Each kidney has approximately 1 million nephrons. The
nephron is the functional unit of the kidney and consists

A renal corpuscle (Bowmans capsule and the

Tubule (proximal tubule, loop of Henle, distal
tubule and collecting duct).

There are two types of nephron, depending on the length

of the loop of Henle:
Cortical nephrons: these have renal corpuscles in the
outer part of the cortex, with a correspondingly short loop of Henle
Juxtamedullary nephrons: these have larger renal corpuscles in the inner third of the cortex, with
long loops of Henle extending into the medulla.
The glomerulus is formed by the invagination of a ball of capillaries into the Bowmans capsule,
which is the blind end of a nephron. It
has a diameter of approximately
200 m.
The function of the glomerulus is to
produce a protein-free filtrate from the
blood in the glomerular capillaries. The
capillaries are supplied by the afferent
arterioles and drained by the efferent
arterioles. The filtration membrane of
the renal corpuscle is made up of three
layers and is fundamental to kidney
function (the diagram is below).
Proximal tubule
The proximal tubule continues from the renal corpuscle. It is 15 mm long and 55 m in diameter. Its
wall is composed of a single layer of cuboidal cells, which interdigitate extensively and are connected

by tight junctions at their luminal surfaces. The luminal edge of each cell is made up of millions of
microvilli, forming a dense brush border that increases the surface area available for absorption of
tubular filtrate. At the base of each cell there are infoldings of the cell membrane. The extracellular
space between the cells is known as the lateral intercellular space.
The structure of the proximal tubule varies along its length:
The first part is convoluted (pars convoluta) and cells have an increased density of microvilli and a
greater number of mitochondria than cells in the second straight part. This suggests a role in
transport of substances across the lumen and the filtrate
The second straight part (pars recta) leads on to the first part of the loop of Henle (the thin
descending limb).
Loop of Henle
The loop of Henle consists of a single layer of flattened squamous cells, which form a thin-walled,
hairpin-shaped tube. It acts as a countercurrent multiplier that uses energy to create concentration
gradients (as shown in the diagram below).

The cells of the thin descending segment interdigitate sparingly and have few mitochondria and
microvilli on the luminal surface. This segment ends at the tip of the hairpin loop. The descending
limb is water permeable. Water flows from the filtrate to the interstitial fluid, so osmolality inside
the limb increases as it descends into the renal medulla. At the bottom, the osmolality is higher
inside the loop than in the interstitial fluid.

The thin ascending segment is 2 mm long and 20 m in diameter. Its structure is similar to the
preceding part of the tubule (the pars recta), except that the cells have extensive interdigitations.
This might have a role in the active transport and permeability properties of the cells. There is an
abrupt transition between the thin and thick ascending segments and the level of this depends on
the length of the loop. Thus, as filtrate enters the ascending limb, Na+ and Cl- ions exit through ion
channels present in the cell membrane. Further up, Na+ is actively transported out of the filtrate and
Cl- follows. Osmolarity is given in units of milliosmoles per liter (mOsm/L). The thick ascending
segment is 12 mm in length and consists of a single layer of columnar cells. The luminal membrane is
invaginated to form many projections, although there is no brush border and there are few
infoldings of the basal membrane.
Distal tubule
The distal convoluted tubule (DCT) is a portion of kidneynephron between the loop of Henle and
the collecting duct system. It is partly responsible for the regulation of potassium, sodium,calcium,
and pH. It is the primary site for the kidneys' hormone based regulation of calcium (Ca). The DCT is
lined with simple cuboidal cells that are shorter than those of the proximal convoluted tubule(PCT).
The lumen appears larger in DCT than the PCT lumen because the PCT has a brush border
(microvilli). DCT can be recognized by its numerous mitochondria, basal infoldings and lateral
membrane interdigitations with neighboring cells.
The Collecting Duct
The collecting duct system of the kidney consists of a series of tubules and ducts that connect
the nephrons to the ureter. It participates in electrolyte and fluid balance through reabsorption and
excretion, processes regulated by the hormones aldosterone and antidiuretic hormone.
There are several components of the collecting duct system, including the connecting tubules,
cortical collecting ducts, and medullary collecting ducts.
Osmoregulation is the process (shown in the diagram below) which regulates the concentration and
osmotic pressure of blood by regulating the water contents of blood plasma. So that when the
volume of body fluids decreases below normal due to profuse sweating during heavy exercise or
high temperature or excessive bleeding or a prolonged delay in fluid intake, the rate of ultra
filtration is decreased due to decreased blood volume and low hydrostatic pressure of blood in the
glomerular capillaries and rate of reabsorption of water is increased by increasing the permeability
of the wall of DCT and collecting tubules due to
increased release of ADH from the posterior
pituitary. Less ultrafiltration and more reabsorption
produce small amount of hypertonic urine which
increases body fluid volume to normal.
A deficiency of ADH causes diabetes insipidus which
is characterised by diuresis or increased urine
output, about 10 times more than the normal rate.

When there is a decrease in blood pressure or blood volume in the afferent arteriole of the
glomerulus, the Justaglomerular Apparatus (TGA) that is situated between the afferent and efferent
arterioles release an enzyme 'renin' into the blood stream. A plasma protein angiotensinogen is
converted to apeptide angiotensin II by renin.
Angiotensin II acts as a hormone as it increases blood pressure by causing arterioles to contract.It
stimulates the adrenal gland to produce another hormone aldosterone, which in turn induces the
distal convoluted tubule to reabsorb more Na+ and water thereby increasing the volume and
pressure of blood. An increase in blood volume and pressure stimulates the walls of the heart (atria)
to release another hormone Atrial Natriuretic Factor (ANF) which opposes the working of the Renin Angiotensin - Aldosterone System (RAAS) .
ANF stops the production of rennin from the JGA (Juxtaglomerular Apparatus) and thereby stops
NaCl absorption by the collecting duct, which in turn inhibits the production of the aldosterone from
the adrenal gland. If you have too much water the opposite (almost) occurs.