2.6.2. Urinary system Physiology


f27-5_nephron_structure_cA nephron is the basic structural and functional unit of the kidney. The name nephron comes from the Greek word (nephros) meaning kidney. Its chief function is to regulate water and soluble substances by filtering the blood, reabsorbing what is needed and excreting the rest as urine. Nephrons eliminate wastes from the body, regulate blood volume and pressure, control levels of electrolytes and metabolites, and regulate blood pH. Its functions are vital to life and are regulated by the endocrine system by hormones such as antidiuretic hormone, aldosterone, and parathyroid hormone.

Each nephron has its own supply of blood from two capillary regions from the renal artery. Each nephron is composed of an initial filtering component (the renal corpuscle) and a tubule specialized for reabsorption and secretion (the renal tubule). The renal corpuscle filters out large solutes from the blood, delivering water and small solutes to the renal tubule for modification.

Each nephron is composed of an initial filtering component (the “renal corpuscle”) and a tubule specialized for reabsorption and secretion (the “renal tubule”). The renal corpuscle filters out solutes from the blood, delivering water and small solutes to the renal tubule for modification.[citation needed]

Renal Corpuscle

Composed of a glomerulus and the Bowman’s capsule, the renal corpuscle (or Malphigian corpuscle) is the beginning of the nephron. It is the nephron’s initial filtering component.

The glomerulus is a capillary tuft that receives its blood supply from an afferent arteriole of the renal circulation. The glomerular blood pressure provides the driving force for water and solutes to be filtered out of the blood and into the space made by Bowman’s capsule. The remainder of the blood (only approximately 1/5 of all plasma passing through the kidney is filtered through the glomerular wall into the Bowman’s capsule) passes into the efferent arteriole.The diameter of efferent arteriole is comparatively less than that of afferent arteriole, increasing the hydrostatic pressure in the glomerulus. It then moves into the vasa recta, which are only found in juxtamedullary nephrons and not cortical nephrons. The vasa recta are collecting capillaries intertwined with the convoluted tubules through the interstitial space, in which the reabsorbed substances will also enter. This then combines with efferent venules from other nephrons into the renal vein, and rejoins the main bloodstream.

The Bowman’s capsule, also called the glomerular capsule, surrounds the glomerulus. It is composed of a visceral inner layer formed by specialized cells called podocytes, and a parietal outer layer composed of simple squamous epithelium. Fluids from blood in the glomerulus are filtered through the visceral layer of podocytes, and the resulting glomerular filtrate is further processed along the nephron to form urine.

Renal tubule

The renal tubule is the portion of the nephron containing the tubular fluid filtered through the glomerulus. After passing through the renal tubule, the filtrate continues to the collecting duct system, which is not part of the nephron.

The components of the renal tubule are:

  • Proximal convoluted tubule (lies in cortex and lined by simple cuboidal epithelium with brushed borders which help to increase the area of absorption greatly.)
  • Loop of Henle (hair-pin like i.e. U-shaped and lies in medulla)
    • Descending limb of loop of Henle
    • Ascending limb of loop of Henle
      • The ascending limb of loop of Henle is divided into 2 segments: Lower end of ascending limb is very thin and is lined by simple squamous epithelium. The distal portion of ascending limb is thick and is lined by simple cuboidal epithelium.
      • Thin ascending limb of loop of Henle
      • Thick ascending limb of loop of Henle (enters cortex and becomes DCT-distal convoluted tubule.)
  • Distal convoluted tubule

Formation of Urine

d84e8bae16bde1b93078b4181ebf90c9_1419773Urine is formed in three steps: Filtration, Reabsorption, and Secretion.


Blood enters the afferent arteriole and flows into the glomerulus. Blood in the glomerulus has both filterable blood components and non-filterable blood components. Filterable blood components move toward the inside of the glomerulus while non-filterable blood components bypass the filtration process by exiting through the efferent arteriole. Filterable Blood components will then take a plasma like form called glomerular filtrate. A few of the filterable blood components are water, nitrogenous waste, nutrients and salts (ions). Nonfilterable blood components include formed elements such as blood cells and platelets along with plasma proteins. The glomerular filtrate is not the same consistency as urine, as much of it is reabsorbed into the blood as the filtrate passes through the tubules of the nephron.


Within the peritubular capillary network, molecules and ions are reabsorbed back into the blood. Sodium Chloride reabsorbed into the system increases the osmolarity of blood in comparison to the glomerular filtrate. This reabsorption process allows water (H2O) to pass from the glomerular filtrate back into the circulatory system.

Glucose and various amino acids also are reabsorbed into the circulatory system. These nutrients have carrier molecules that claim the glomerular molecule and release it back into the circulatory system. If all of the carrier molecules are used up, excess glucose or amino acids are set free into the urine. A complication of diabetes is the inability of the body to reabsorb glucose. If too much glucose appears in the glomerular filtrate it increases the osmolarity of the filtrate, causing water to be released into the urine rather than reabsorbed by the circulatory system. Frequent urination and unexplained thirst are warning signs of diabetes, due to water not being reabsorbed.

Glomerular filtrate has now been separated into two forms: Reabsorbed Filtrate and Non-reabsorbed Filtrate. Non-reabsorbed filtrate is now known as tubular fluid as it passes through the collecting duct to be processed into urine.


Some substances are removed from blood through the peritubular capillary network into the distal convoluted tubule or collecting duct. These substances are Hydrogen ions, creatinine, and drugs. Urine is a collection of substances that have not been reabsorbed during glomerular filtration or tubular reabsorbtion.


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