The kidneys are retroperitoneal organs (i.e located behind the peritoneum) situated on the posterior wall of the abdomen on each side of the vertebral column, at about the level of the twelfth rib. The left kidney is lightly higher in the abdomen than the right, due to the presence of the liver pushing the right kidney down.
The kidneys take their blood supply directly from the aorta via the renal arteries; blood is returned to the inferior vena cava via the renal veins. Urine (the filtered product containing waste materials and water) excreted from the kidneys passes down the fibromuscular ureters and collects in the bladder. The bladder muscle (the detrusor muscle) is capable of distending to accept urine without increasing the pressure inside; this means that large volumes can be collected (700-1000ml) without high-pressure damage to the renal system occurring.
When urine is passed, the urethral sphincter at the base of the bladder relaxes, the detrusor contracts, and urine is voided via the urethra.
On sectioning, the kidney has a pale outer region- the cortex- and a darker inner region- the medulla. The medulla is divided into 8-18 conical regions, called the renal pyramids; the base of each pyramid starts at the corticomedullary border, and the apex ends in the renal papilla which merges to form the renal pelvis and then on to form the ureter. In humans, the renal pelvis is divided into two or three spaces -the major calyces- which in turn divide into further minor calyces. The walls of the calyces, pelvis and ureters are lined with smooth muscle that can contract to force urine towards the bladder by peristalsis.
The cortex and the medulla are made up of nephrons; these are the functional units of the kidney, and each kidney contains about 1.3 million of them.
Structure of the Nephron
The nephron is the unit of the kidney responsible for ultrafiltration of the blood and reabsorption or excretion of products in the subsequent filtrate. Each nephron is made up of:
· A filtering unit- the glomerulus. 125ml/min of filtrate is formed by the kidneys as blood is filtered through this sieve-like structure. This filtration is uncontrolled.
· The proximal convoluted tubule. Controlled absorption of glucose, sodium, and other solutes goes on in this region.
· The loop of Henle. This region is responsible for concentration and dilution of urine by utilizing a counter-current multiplying mechanism- basically, it is water-impermeable but can pump sodium out, which in turn affects the osmolarity of the surrounding tissues and will affect the subsequent movement of water in or out of the water-permeable collecting duct.
· The distal convoluted tubule. This region is responsible, along with the collecting duct that it joins, for absorbing water back into the body- simple maths will tell you that the kidney doesn't produce 125ml of urine every minute. 99% of the water is normally reabsorbed, leaving highly concentrated urine to flow into the collecting duct and then into the renal pelvis.