The kidney is one of the most highly differentiated organs in the body. At the conclusion of embryologic development, nearly 30 different cell types form a multitude of filtering capillaries and segmented nephrons enveloped by a dynamic interstitium. This cellular diversity modulates a variety of complex physiologic processes. Endocrine functions, the regulation of blood pressure and intraglomerular hemodynamics, solute and water transport, acid-base balance, and removal of drug metabolites are all accomplished by intricate mechanisms of renal response. This breadth of physiology hinges on the clever ingenuity of nephron architecture that evolved as complex organisms came out of water to live on land.
Kidneys develop from intermediate mesoderm under the timed or sequential control of a growing number of genes, described in Fig. 277-1. The transcription of these genes is guided by morphogenic cues that invite two ureteric buds to each penetrate bilateral metanephric blastema, where they induce primary mesenchymal cells to form early nephrons. This induction involves a number of complex signaling pathways mediated by Pax2, Six2, WT-1, Wnt9b, c-Met, fibroblast growth factor, transforming growth factor β, glial cell-derived neurotrophic factor, hepatocyte growth factor, and epidermal growth factor. The two ureteric buds emerge from posterior nephric ducts and mature into separate collecting systems that eventually form a renal pelvis and ureter. Induced mesenchyme undergoes mesenchymal epithelial transitions to form comma-shaped bodies at the proximal end of each ureteric bud leading to the formation of S-shaped nephrons that cleft and enjoin with penetrating endothelial cells derived from sprouting angioblasts. Under the influence of vascular endothelial growth factor A (VEGF-A), these penetrating cells form capillaries with surrounding mesangial cells that differentiate into a glomerular filter for plasma water and solute. The ureteric buds branch, and each branch produces a new set of nephrons. The number of branching events ultimately determines the total number of nephrons in each kidney. There are approximately 900,000 glomeruli in each kidney in normal birth weight adults and as few as 225,000 in low birth weight adults—producing the latter in numerous comorbid risks.
Genes controlling renal nephrogenesis. A growing number of genes have been identified at various stages of glomerulotubular development in the mammalian kidney. The genes listed have been tested in various genetically modified mice, and their location corresponds to the classical stages of kidney development postulated by Saxen in 1987. GDNF, giant cell line-derived neutrophilic factor; FGFR2, fibroblast growth factor receptor 2; WT-1, Wilms' tumor gene 1; FGF-8, fibroblast growth factor 8; VEGF–A/Flk-1, vascular endothelial growth factor–A/fetal liver kinase-1; PDGFβ, platelet-derived growth factor β; PDGFβR, PDGFβ receptor; SDF-1, stromal-derived factor 1; NPHS1, nephrin; NCK1/2, NCK-adaptor protein; CD2AP, CD2-associated protein; NPHS2, podocin; LAMB2, laminin beta-2.
Glomeruli evolve as complex capillary filters with fenestrated endothelia under the guiding influence of VEGF-A and angiopoietin-1 secreted by adjacently developing podocytes. Epithelial podocytes facing the urinary space envelop the exterior basement membrane supporting these emerging endothelial capillaries. Podocytes are partially polarized and periodically fall off into the urinary space by epithelial-mesenchymal transition, and to a lesser extent apoptosis, only to be replenished by migrating parietal epithelia from Bowman's capsule. Failing replenishment results in heavy proteinuria. Podocytes attach to the basement membrane by special foot processes and share a slit-pore membrane with their neighbor. The slit-pore membrane forms a filter for plasma water and solute by the synthetic interaction of nephrin, annexin-4, CD2AP, FAT, ZO-1, P-cadherin, podocin, TRPC6, PLCE1, and neph 1–3 proteins. Mutations in many of these proteins also result in heavy proteinuria. The glomerular capillaries are embedded in a mesangial matrix shrouded by parietal and proximal tubular epithelia forming Bowman's capsule. Mesangial cells have an embryonic lineage consistent with arteriolar or juxtaglomerular cells and contain contractile actin-myosin fibers. These mesangial cells make contact with glomerular capillary loops, and their local matrix holds them in condensed arrangement.
Between nephrons lies the renal interstitium. This region forms a functional space surrounding glomeruli and their downstream tubules, which are home to resident and trafficking cells such as fibroblasts, dendritic cells, occasional lymphocytes, and lipid-laden macrophages. The cortical and medullary capillaries, which siphon off solute and water following tubular reclamation of glomerular filtrate, are also part of the interstitial fabric as well as a web of connective tissue that supports the kidney's emblematic architecture of folding tubules. The relational precision of these structures determines the unique physiology of the kidney.
Each nephron is partitioned during embryologic development into a proximal tubule, descending and ascending limbs of the loop of Henle, distal tubule, and the collecting duct. These classic tubular segments build from subsegments lined by highly unique epithelia serving regional physiology. All nephrons have the same structural components, but there are two types whose structure depend on their location within the kidney. The majority of nephrons are cortical, with glomeruli located in the mid-to-outer cortex. Fewer nephrons are juxtamedullary, with glomeruli at the boundary of the cortex and outer medulla. Cortical nephrons have short loops of Henle, whereas juxtamedullary nephrons have long loops of Henle. There are critical differences in blood supply as well. The peritubular capillaries surrounding cortical nephrons are shared among adjacent nephrons. By contrast, juxtamedullary nephrons depend on individual capillaries called vasa recta. Cortical nephrons perform most of the glomerular filtration because there are more of them and because their afferent arterioles are larger than their respective efferent arterioles. The juxtamedullary nephrons, with longer loops of Henle, create a hyperosmolar gradient for concentrating urine. How developmental instructions specify the differentiation of all these unique epithelia among various tubular segments is still unknown.
Renal blood flow normally drains approximately 20% of the cardiac output, or 1000 mL/min. Blood reaches each nephron through the afferent arteriole leading into a glomerular capillary where large amounts of fluid and solutes are filtered to form the tubular fluid. The distal ends of the glomerular capillaries coalesce to form ...