Renal Physiology

Monday, December 14, 2009

Renal physiology is the study of the function of the kidney. It comprises all functions of the kidney, including reabsorption of glucose, amino acids, and other small molecules; regulation of sodium, potassium, and other electrolytes; regulation of fluid balance and blood pressure; maintenance of acid-base balance; and the production of various hormones including erythropoietin and vitamin D.

Much of renal physiology is studied at the level of the nephron, which is the smallest functional unit of the kidney. Each nephron begins with a filtration component that filters blood entering the kidney. This filtrate then flows along the length of the nephron, which is a tubular structure lined by a single layer of specialized cells and surrounded by capillaries. The major functions of these lining cells are the reabsorption of water and small molecules from the filtrate into the blood, and the secretion of wastes from the blood into the urine.

Proper function of the kidney requires that it receives and adequately filters blood. This is performed at the microscopic level by many hundreds of thousands of filtration units called renal corpuscles, each of which is composed of a glomerulus and a Bowman's capsule. A global assessment of renal function is often ascertained by estimating the rate of filtration, called the glomerular filtration rate (GFR).