Although the phosphate buffer system is not important as an extracellular fluid buffer, it plays a major role in buffering renal tubular fluid and intracellular fluids.
The main elements of the phosphate buffer system are H2PO4- and HPO4=. When a strong acid such as HCl is added to a mixture of these two substances, the hydrogen is accepted by the base HPO4= and converted to H2PO4-.
The result of this reaction is that the strong acid, HCl, is replaced by an additional amount of a weak acid, NaH2PO4, and the decrease in pH is minimized.
When a strong base, such as NaOH, is added to the buffer system, the OH- is buffered by the H2PO4- to form additional amounts of HPO4= + H2O.
In this case, a strong base, NaOH, is traded for a weak base, NaH2PO4, causing only a slight increase in pH.
The phosphate buffer system has a pK of 6.8, which is not far from the normal pH of 7.4 in the body fluids; this allows the system to operate near its maximum buffering power. However, its concentration in the extracellular fluid is low, only about 8 per cent of the concentration of the bicarbonate buffer. Therefore, the total buffering power of the phosphate system in the extracellular fluid is much less than that of the bicarbonate buffering system.
In contrast to its rather insignificant role as an extracellular buffer, the phosphate buffer is especially important in the tubular fluids of the kidneys, for two reasons: (1) phosphate usually becomes greatly concentrated in the tubules, thereby increasing the buffering power of the phosphate system, and (2) the tubular fluid usually has a considerably lower pH than the extracellular fluid does, bringing the operating range of the buffer closer to the pK (6.8) of the system.
The phosphate buffer system is also important in buffering intracellular fluid because the concentration of phosphate in this fluid is many times that in the extracellular fluid. Also, the pH of intracellular fluid is lower than that of extracellular fluid and therefore is usually closer to the pK of the phosphate buffer system compared with the extracellular fluid.
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This ebook provides an introductory explanation of the workings of the human body, with an effort to draw connections between the body systems and explain their interdependencies. A framework for the book is homeostasis and how the body maintains balance within each system. This is intended as a first introduction to physiology for a college-level course.