Determinants of the renal concentrating mechanism. Human kidneys have two populations of nephrons, superficial and juxtamedullary. This anatomic arrangement has important bearing on the formation of urine by the countercurrent mechanism. The unique anatomy of the nephron [1] lays the groundwork for a complex yet logical physiologic arrangement that facilitates the urine concentration and dilution mechanism, leading to the formation of either concentrated or dilute urine, as appropriate to the person's needs and dictated by the plasma osmolality. After two thirds of the filtered load (180 L/d) is isotoni-cally reabsorbed in the proximal convoluted tubule, water is handled by three interrelated processes: 1) the delivery of fluid to the diluting segments; 2) the separation of solute and water (H2O) in the diluting segment; and 3) variable reabsorption of water in the collecting duct. These processes participate in the renal concentrating mechanism [2].

1. Delivery of sodium chloride (NaCl) to the diluting segments of the nephron (thick ascending limb of the loop of Henle and the distal convoluted tubule) is determined by glomerular filtration rate (GFR) and proximal tubule function.

2. Generation of medullary interstitial hypertonicity, is determined by normal functioning of the thick ascending limb of the loop of Henle, urea delivery from the medullary collecting duct, and medullary blood flow.

3. Collecting duct permeability is determined by the presence of antidiuretic hormone (ADH) and normal anatomy of the collecting system, leading to the formation of a concentrated urine.

Renal Medullary Interstitium Adh

Determinants of the urinary dilution mechanism include 1) delivery of water to the thick ascending limb of the loop of Henle, distal convoluted tubule, and collecting system of the nephron; 2) generation of maximally hypotonic fluid in the diluting segments (ie, normal thick ascending limb of the loop of Henle and cortical diluting segment); 3) maintenance of water impermeability of the collecting system as determined by the absence of antidiuretic hormone (ADH) or its action and other antidiuretic substances. GFR—glomerular filtration rate; NaCl—sodium chloride; H2O—water.

Cortical Diluting Segment

Mechanism of urine concentration: overview of the passive model. Several models of urine concentration have been put forth by investigators. The passive model of urine concentration described by Kokko and Rector [3] is based on permeability characteristics of different parts of the nephron to solute and water and on the fact that the active transport is limited to the thick ascending limb. 1) Through the Na+, K+, 2 Cl cotransporter, the thick ascending limb actively transports sodium chloride (NaCl), increasing the interstitial tonicity, resulting in tubular fluid dilution with no net movement of water and urea on account of their low permeability. 2) The hypotonic fluid under antidiuretic hormone action undergoes osmotic equilibration with the interstitium in the late distal tubule and cortical and outer medullary collecting duct, resulting in water removal. Urea concentration in the tubular fluid rises on account of low urea permeability. 3) At the inner medullary collecting duct, which is highly permeable to urea and water, especially in response to antidiuretic hormone, the urea enters the interstitium down its concentration gradient, preserving interstitial hypertonicity and generating high urea concentration in the interstitium.

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FIGURE 1-4 (continued)

4) The hypertonic interstitium causes abstraction of water from the descending thin limb of loop of Henle, which is relatively impermeable to NaCl and urea, making the tubular fluid hypertonic with high NaCl concentration as it arrives at the bend of the loop of

Henle. 5) In the thin ascending limb of the loop of Henle, NaCl moves passively down its concentration gradient into the intersti-tium, making tubular fluid less concentrated with little or no movement of water. H2O—water.


Pathways for urea recycling. Urea plays an important role in the generation of medullary interstitial hypertonicity. A recycling mechanism operates to minimize urea loss. The urea that is reabsorbed into the inner medullary stripe from the terminal inner medullary collecting duct (step 3 in Fig. 1-4) is carried out of this region by the ascending vasa recta, which deposits urea into the adjacent descending thin limbs of a short loop of Henle, thus recycling the urea to the inner medullary collecting tubule (pathway A).

Some of the urea enters the descending limb of the loop of Henle and the thin ascending limb of the loop of Henle. It is then carried through to the thick ascending limb of the loop of Henle, the distal collecting tubule, and the collecting duct, before it reaches the inner medullary collecting duct (pathway B). This process is facilitated by the close anatomic relationship that the hairpin loop of Henle and the vasa recta share [4].

Loop Henle Countercurrent Mechanism


Renal Urea Recycling

and cortical inner medullary collecting tubule collecting ducts and cortical inner medullary collecting tubule collecting ducts

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