Figure 285

Recirculation of urea absorbed from the medullary collecting duct into the interstitial fluid. This urea diffuses into the thin loop of Henle, and then passes through the distal tubules, and finally passes back into the collecting duct. The recirculation of urea helps to trap urea in the renal medulla and contributes to the hyperosmolarity of the renal medulla. The heavy dark lines, from the thick ascending loop of Henle to the medullary collecting ducts, indicate that these segments are not very permeable to urea. (Numerical values are in milliosmoles per liter of urea during antidiuresis, when large amounts of antidiuretic hormone are present. Percentages of the filtered load of urea that remain in the tubules are indicated in the boxes.)

In the proximal tubule, 40 to 50 per cent of the filtered urea is reabsorbed, but even so, the tubular fluid urea concentration increases because urea is not nearly as permeant as water.The concentration of urea continues to rise as the tubular fluid flows into the thin segments of the loop of Henle, partly because of water reabsorption out of the descending loop of Henle but also because of some secretion of urea into the thin loop of Henle from the medullary interstitium (Figure 28-5).

The thick limb of the loop of Henle, the distal tubule, and the cortical collecting tubule are all relatively impermeable to urea, and very little urea reabsorption occurs in these tubular segments. When the kidney is forming a concentrated urine and high levels of ADH are present, the reabsorption of water from the distal tubule and cortical collecting tubule further raises the tubular fluid concentration of urea. And as this urea flows into the inner medullary collecting duct, the high tubular fluid concentration of urea and specific urea transporters cause urea to diffuse into the medullary interstitium. A moderate share of the urea that moves into the medullary interstitium eventually diffuses into the thin loop of Henle, so that it passes upward through the ascending loop of Henle, the distal tubule, the cortical collecting tubule, and back down into the medullary collecting duct again. In this way, urea can recirculate through these terminal parts of the tubular system several times before it is excreted. Each time around the circuit contributes to a higher concentration of urea.

This urea recirculation provides an additional mechanism for forming a hyperosmotic renal medulla. Because urea is one of the most abundant waste products that must be excreted by the kidneys, this mechanism for concentrating urea before it is excreted is essential to the economy of the body fluid when water is in short supply.

When there is excess water in the body and low levels of ADH, the inner medullary collecting ducts have a much lower permeability to both water and urea, and more urea is excreted in the urine.

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Essentials of Human Physiology

Essentials of Human Physiology

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