Regulation of Sodium Excretion

June 25, 2016 Cardiology, Critical Care, Nephrology, Physiology and Pathophysiology No comments , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Percentage of Sodium Reabsorbed

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The Goals of Regulation

The overriding goals of regulating sodium and water excretion are to support the requirements of the cardiovascular system. This is manifested in 3 ways: 1.the kidneys maintain a sufficient ECF volume to fill the vascular space (mean circulatory filling pressure); 2.keep the osmolality of the ECF at a level consistent with cellular health; and 3.limit the changes in renal blood flow (RBF) and GFR that might otherwise reach deleterious levels. The kidneys and the CV system work cooperatively to ensure that peripheral tissue is sufficiently perfused. An adequate circulating volume is one of the essential requirements for tissue perfusion and it is the kidneys that control this volume. Osmolality is the ratio of solute content to water content. Sodium and chloride together account for 80% of the normal extracellular solute; thus the excretion of sodium and water by the kidneys regulates osmolality in the tight range that is needed for the health of tissue cells. There is a separate goal of regulation that differs from those stated above. Variations in RBF and GFR are major means of regulating sodium excretion. However, the kidney cannot change blood flow and filtration to such extreme values that they compromise the metabolic health of the kidneys or interfere with the excretion of substances other than sodium, particularly organic waste.

Formulas for ECF Volume

There are some formulas showing the relationship between ECF solute content, ECF osmolality, and ECF volume. Since almost all of the ECF solute is accounted for by sodium and an equivalent number of anions (mostly chloride and bicarbonate), the amount of ECF solute is approximately twice the sodium content.

ECF osmolality = ECF solute content / ECF volume (Equation 7-1)

ECF volume = ECF solute content / ECF osmolality (Equation 7-2)

ECF volume ≈ 2 x Na content / ECF osmolality (Equation 7-3)

Therefore, in the face of tightly controlled ECF osmolality, ECF volume varies directly with sodium content. But how do the kidneys know how much sodium there is in the ECF? The detection of sodium content is indirect, based on a combination of assessing sodium concentration and vascular pressures. Glial cells in regions of the brain called the circumventricular organs have sensory Na+ channels that respond to and act as detectors of extracellular sodium concentration. The glial cells modulate the activity of nearby neurons involved  in the control of body sodium. There are also neurons in the hypothalamus contain the sensory Na+ channels that respond to the sodium concentration in the cerebrospinal fluid. Thus cells in or near the hypothalamus monitor extracellular sodium concentration.

The volume affects pressure in different regions of the vasculature. It is the presssure baroreceptors in these regions of the vasculature detect the vascular pressures.

Major Controllers of Sodium Excretion

Sympathetic Stimulation 

Vascular pressures are so important in regard to sodium excretion and because volume affect pressure in different regions of the vasculature, so the changes in ECF affects pressures (arterial and/or venous) and changes in pressure affect sodium excretion (Thread "Regulation of Arterial Pressure" at and thread "Mean Circulatory Filling Pressure and CVP" at

The vasculature and tubules of the kidney are innervated by postganglionic sympathetic neurons that release norepinephrine. In most regions of the kidney, norepinephrine is recognized by alpha-adrenergic receptors. In the renal vasculature activation of alpha1-adrenergic recpetors causes vasoconstriction of afferent and efferent arterioles. This reduces RBF and GFR.

GFR is a crucial determinant of sodium excretion. However, except in body emergencies such as hypovolemic shock, GFR is kept within rather narrow limits due to autoregulatory processes (detail for vascular autoregulatory regulation Thus although neural control does affect GFR, this component of sympathetic control is probably less important in normal circumstances than its effect on sodium reabsorption. Neural control of the renal vasculature is exerted primarily on blood flow in the cortex, allowing preservation of medullary perfusion even when cortical blood flow is reduced.

The proximal tubule epithelial cells are innervated by alpha1- and alpha2-adrenergic receptors. Stimulation of these receptors in the proximal tubule by norepinephrine activates both components of the main transcellular sodium reabsorptive pathway, that is, the sodium-hydrogen antiporter NHE3 in the apical membrane and the Na-K-ATPase in the basolateral membrane. The effects of sympathetic stimulation on cells in the distal nephron are less straightforward. However, the overall outcome of sympathetic stimulation of the kidney is clearly reduced sodium excretion.

The Renin-Angiotensin System

AII's function

  • Reduces the RBF and GFR
  • Stimulation of sodium tubular reabsorption
  • Stimulation of the CNS: salt appetite, thirst, and sympathetic drive
  • Stimulation of aldosterone secretion

The major determinant of circulating AII is the amount of renin available to form angiotensin I.

PS: "Control of the Circulating RAAS" is ready at

AII is a potent vasoconstrictor, acting on the vasculature of many peripheral tissues, the effect of which is to raise arterial pressure. It also vasoconstricts both cortical and medullary vessels in the kidney. This reduces total RBF and reduces GFR, thus decreasing the filtered load of sodium.

AII stimulates sodium reabsorption in both the proximal tubule and distal nephron. In the proximal tubule it stimulates the same transcellular transport pathway as does norepinephrine, namely NHE3 sodium/hydrogen antiporter in the apical membrane and the Na-K-ATPase in the basolateral membrane. In the distal tubule and connecting tubule, it stimulates the activity of sodium/chloride symporters and sodium channels (ENaC) that reabsorb sodium.

AII stimulates behavioral actions in response to fluid loss that increase salt appetite and thirst. AII acts on the circumventricular organs in the brain. These function as detectors of many substances in the blood and convey information to various areas of the brain. In situations of volume depletion and low blood pressure, when circulating levels of AII are high, a key effect, in addition to vascular and tubular actions is increased thirst and salt appetite. These pathways also increase sympathetic drive.

Aldosterone is a major stimulator of sodium reabsorption in the distal nephron, that is, regions of the tubule beyond the proximal tubule and loop of Henle. We focus here on the role of aldosterone in sodium reabsorption, but aldosterone has many other important actions, including stimulation of potassium excretion and acid excretion. The most important physiological factor controlling secretion of aldosterone is the circulating level of AII, which stimulates the adrenal cortex to produce aldosterone. But keep in mind that elevated plasma potassium concentration, atrial natriuretic factors are other stimulators of aldosterone secretion. The aldosterone has enough lipid character to freely cross principal cell membrane in the collecting ducts, after which it combines with mineralocorticoid receptors (aldosterone receptors) in the cytoplasm. After being transported to the nucleus, the receptor acts as a transcription factor that promotes gene expression of specific proteins. The effect of these proteins is to increase the activity or number of luminal membrane sodium channels (ENaCs) and basolateral membrane Na-K-ATPase pumps.


Dopaimine inhibits sodium reabsorption in the kidney. The dopamine that acts in the kidney is not released from neurons; rather it is synthesized in proximal tubule cells from the precursor l-DOPA. l-DOPA is taken up from the renal circulation and glomerular filtrate and converted to dopamine in the proximal tubule epithelium, and then released to act in a paracrine manner on nearby cells. Although the signaling path is not clear, it is known that increases in sodium intake lead to increased production of intrarenal dopamine. Dopamine has 2 actions, both of which reduce sodium reabsorption. First, it causes retraction of NHE antiporters and Na-K-ATPase pumps into intracellular vesicles, thereby reducing transcellular sodium reabsorption. Second, it reduces the expression of AII receptors, thereby decreasing the ability of AII to stimulate sodium reabsorption.

Other Controllers of Sodium Excretion


When ADH binds to V2 reecptors in tubular cells, it increases the production of c-AMP. This results in increased activity of the NKCC multiporter in the thick ascending limb and increased sodium channel (ENaC) presence in principal cells of the distal nephron, thereby increasing the uptake of sodium that, in both regions, is actively transported into the interstitium by the Na-K-ATPase. Interestingly, in the distal nephron the mechanism proceeds, not by moving ENaCs into the membrane, but rather by decreasing their removal and degradation.

Glomerulotubular Balance

Glomerulotubular balance (not to be confused with TG feedback described previously) refers to the phenomenon whereby sodium reabsorption in the proximal tubule varies in parallel with the filtered load, such that approximately two thirds of the filtered sodium is reabsorbed even when GFR varies. The mechanism by which reabsorption varies with filtered load appears to be via mechanotransduction by the microvilli on the apical surface of the proximal tubule cells, similar in principle to mechanotransduction by primary cilia in the macula densa. As flow changes, the amount of bending of the microvilli changes, and this is converted by cellular mechanisms into changes in transport.

Pressure Natriuresis and Diuresis

Because the kidneys are responsive to arterial pressure, there are situations in which elevated blood pressure can lead directly to increased excretion of sodium. This phenomenon is called pressure natriuresis, and because natriuresis is usually accompanied by water, it is often called pressure diuresis. This is an intrarenal phenomenon, not requiring external signaling. However, external signals normally override pressure natriuresis.

Natriuretic Peptides

Several tissues in the body synthesize members of a hormone family called natriuretic peptides. Key among these are atrial natriuretic peptide (ANP) and brain natriuretic peptide (BNP). The main source of both natriuretic peptides is the heart. The natriuretic peptides have both vascular and tubular actions. The relax the afferent arteriole, thereby promoting increased filtration, and act at several sites in the tubule. They inhibit release of renin, inhibit the actions of AII that normally promote reabsorption of sodium, and act in the medullary collecting duct to inhibit sodium absorption. The major stimulus for increased secretion of the natriuretic peptides is distention of the atria, which occurs during plasma volume expansion. This is probably the stimulus for the increased natriuretic peptides that occurs in persons on a high salt diet.

Urinary Concentration – The Medullary Osmotic Gradient

June 22, 2016 Anatomy, Critical Care, Hemodynamics, Histology, Nephrology, Physiology and Pathophysiology No comments , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The kidneys can produce a range of urine osmolalities depending on the levels of ADH. The production of hypo-osmotic urine is an understandable process: The tubules (particularly the thick ascending limb of Henle's loop) reabsorb relatively more solute than water, and the dilute fluid that remains in the lumen is excreted. The production of hyperosmotic urine is also straightfoward in that reabsorption of water from the lumen into a hyperosmotic interstitium concentrates that luminal fluid, leaving concentrated urine to be excreted.

The Mechanism to Generate Medullary Osmotic Gradient

There is a gradient of osmolality (hyperosmotic), increasing from a nearly iso-osmotic value at the corticomedullary border to a maximum of greater than 1000 mOsm/kg at the papilla. The peak osmolality is variable depending on dehydration or overhydration, where highest during periods of dehydration and lowest (approximately half of that during excess hydration) during excess hydration.

In the steady state there must be mass balance, that is, every substance that enters the medulla via tubule or blood vessel must leave the medulla via tubule or blood vessels. However, during development of the gradient there are transient accumulations of solute, and during washout of the gradient there are losses. To develop the osmotic gradient in the medullary interstitium, there must be deposition of solute in excess of water. It is reabsorption of sodium and chloride by the thick ascending limb in excess of water reabsorbed in the thin descending limbs that accomplishes this task. At the junction between the inner and outer medulla, the ascending limbs of all loops of Henle, whether long or short, turn into thick regions and remain thick all the way back until they reach the original Bowman's capsules. As they reabsorb solute without water and dilute the luminal fluid, they simultaneously add solute without water to the surrounding interstitium. This action of the thick ascending limb is absolutely essential and is the key to everything else that happens. If transport in the thick ascending limb is innhibited, the lumen is not diluted and the interstitium is not concentrated, and the urine becomes iso-osmotic.


  • For thick ascending limbs in the cortex, reabsorbed solute is taken up by abundant cortex blood flow so intersititum osmolality in the cortex approximately equal plasma
  • High concentratiion sodium level in outer medulla interstitium makes them diffuse into DVR and AVR
  • Hyperosmotic sodium in AVR can diffuse into nearby DVR – the countercurrent exchange

For those portions of the thick ascending limbs in the cortex, the reabsorbed solute simply mixes with material reabsorbed by the nearby proximal convoluted tubules. Because the cortex contains abundant peritubular capillaries and a hight blood flow, the reabsorbed material immediately moves into the vasculature and returns to the general circulation. However, in the medulla, the vascular anatomy is arranged differently and total blood flow is much lower. Solute that is reabsorbed and deposited in the outer medullary interstitium during the establishment of the osmotic gradient is not immediately removed, that is, it accumulates. The degree of accumulation before a steady state is reached is a function of the arrangement of the vasa recta, their permeability properties and the volume of blood flowing within them.

Imagine first a hypothetical situation of no blood flow. Sodium would accumulate in the outer medulla without limit, because there would be no way to remove it. But, of course the outer medulla is perfused with blood, as are all tissues. Blood enters and leaves the outer medulla through parallel bundles of descending and ascending vasa recta (DVR and AVR). These vessels are permeable to sodium. Therefore sodium enters the vasa recta driven by the rise in concentration in the surrounding interstitium. Sodium entering the ascending vessels returns to the general circulation, but sodium in the descending vessels is distributed deeper into the medulla, where it diffuses out across the endothelia of the vassa recta and the interbundle capillaries that they feed, thereby raising the sodim content throughout the medulla.

Later, the interbundle capillaries drain into ascending vasa recta that lie near descending vasa recta. The walls of the ascending vasa recta are fenestrated, allowing movment of water and small solutes between plasma and interstitium. As the sodium concentration of the medullary interstitium rises, blood in the ascending vessels also takes on an increasingly higher sodium concentration. However, blood entering the medulla always has a normal sodium concentration (approximtely 140 mEq/L). Accordingly, some of the sodium begins to re-circulate, diffusing out of ascending vessels and reentering nearbydescending vessels that contain less sodium (countercurrent exchange). So sodium is entering descending vasa recta from 2 sources – re-circulated sodium from the ascending vasa recta, and new sodium from the thick ascending limbs. Over time, everything reaches a steady state in which the amount of new sodium entering the interstitium from thick ascending limbs matches the amount of sodium leaving the interstitium in ascending vasa recta. At its peak, the concentration of sodium in the medulla may reach 300 mEq/L, more than double its value in the general circulation. Since sodium is accompanied by an anion, mostly chloride, the contribution of salt to the medullary osmolality is approximately 600 mOsm/kg.


  • While solute can accumulate without a major effect on renal volume, the amount of water in the medullary interstitium must remain nearly constant; otherwise the medulla would undergo significiant swelling or shrinking.
  • Because water is always being reabsorbed from the medullary tubules into the interstitium (from descending thin limbs and medullary colelcting ducts), that water movement must be matched by equal water movement from the interstitium to the vasculature.
  • Blood entering the medulla has passed through glomeruli, thereby concentrating the plasma proteins. While the overall osmotic content (osmolality) of this blood is essentially isosmotic with systemic plasma, its oncotic pressure is considerably higher.

The challenge for the kidneys is to prevent dilution of the hyperosmotic interstitium by water reabsorbed from the tubules and by water diffusing out of the iso-osmotic blood entering the medulla. The endotheial cells of descending vasa recta contain aquaporins. So water is drawn osmotically into the outer medullary interstitium by the high salt content in a manner similar to water being drawn out of tubular elements. At first glance it seems that this allows the undesired diluting effect to actually take place. But, of course, solute is also constantly being added from the nearby thick ascending limbs. The loss of water from descending vasa recta in the outer medulla serves the useful purpose of raising the osmolality of blood penetrating the inner medulla and decreasing its volume, thereby reducing the tendency to dilute the inner medullary interstitium. The ascending vasa recta have a fenestrated endothelium, allowing free movement of water and small solutes. Since the oncotic pressure is high, water entering the interstitium of the outer medulla from descending vasa recta is taken up by ascending vasa recta and removed from the medulla. In addition, water reabsorbed from tubular elements (descending thin limbs and collecting ducts) is also taken up by ascending vasa recta and removed, thereby preserving constancy of total medullary water content.

The magnitude of blood flow in the vasa recta is a crucial variable. The peak osmolality in the interstitium depends on the ratio of sodium pumping by the thick ascending limbs to blood flow in the vasa recta. If this ratio is high (meaning low blood flow), water from the isosmotic plasma entering the medulla in descending vasa recta does not dilute the hyperosmotic interstitium. In effect the "salt wins" and osmolality remains at a maximum. But in conditions of water excess, this ratio is very low (high blood flow) and the diluting effect of water diffusing out of descending vasa recta is considerable. In part the tendency to diulte is controlled by ADH (due to its vasoconstriction effect to limit the blood flow of DVR).


The peak osmolality in the renal papilla reaches over 1000 mOsm/kg. Approximately half of this is accounted for by sodium and chloride, and most of the rest is (500-600 mOsm/kg) accounted for by urea. Urea is a very special substance for the kidney. It is an end product of protein metabolism, waste to be excreted, and also an important component for the regulation of water excretion. For the handle of urea in the kidneys: 

1.There are no membrane transport mechanisms in the proximal tubule; instead, it easily permeates the tight junctions of the proximal tubule where it is reabsorbed paracellularly.

2.Tubular elements beyond the proximal tubule express urea transporters and handle urea in a complex, regulated manner.

The gist of the renal handling of urea is the following: it is freely filtered. About half is reabsorbed passively in the proximal tubule. Then an amount equal to that reabsorbed is secreted back into the loop of Henle. Finally, about half is reabsorbed a second time in the medullary collecting duct. The net result is that about half the filtered load is excreted.

Urea does not permeate lipid layer because of its highly polar nature, but a set of uniporters transport urea in various places beyond the proximal tubule and in other sites within the body. Because urea is freely filtered, the filtrate contains urea at a concentration identical to that in plasma. In the proximal tubule when water is reabsorbed, the urea concentation rises well above the plasma urea concentration, driving diffusion through the leaky tight junctions. Roughly, half the filtered load is reabsorbed in the proximal tubule by the by the paracellular route. As the tubular fluid enters the loop of Henle, about half the filtered urea remains, but the urea concentration has increased somewhat above its level in the filtrate because proportionally, more water than urea was reabsorbed. At this point, the process becomes fairly complicated.

The interstitium of the medulla has a considerably higher urea concentration than does plasma. The concentration increases from the outer to the inner medulla. Since the medullary interstitial urea concentration is greater than that in the tubular fluid entering the loop of Henle, there is a concentration gradient favoring secretion into the lumen. The tight junctions in the loop of Henle are no longer permeable, but the epithelial membranes of the thin regions of the Henle's loops express urea uniporters, members of the UT family. This permits secretion of urea into the tubule. In fact, the urea secreted from the medullary interstitium into the thin regions of the loop of Henle replaces the urea previously reabsorbed in the proximal tubule. Thus, when tubular fluid enters the thick ascending limb, the amount of urea in the lumen is at least as large as the filtered load. However, because about 80% of the filtered water has now been reabsorbed, the luminal urea concentration is now several times greater than in the plasma. Beginning with the thick ascending limb and continuing all the way to the inner medullary collecting ducts (through the distal tubule and cortical collecting ducts), the apical membrane urea permeability (and the tight junction permeability) is essentially zero. Therefore, an amount of urea roughly equal to the filtered load remains within the tubular lumen and flows from the cortical into the medullary collecting ducts.

During the transit through the cortical collecting ducts variable amounts of water are reabsorbed, significantly concentrating the urea.We indicated eariler that the urea concentration in the medullary interstitium is much greater than in plasma, but the luminal concentration in the medullary collecting ducts is even higher (up to 50 times its plasma value), so in the inner medulla the gradient now favors reabsorption and urea is reabsorbed a second time via another isoform of UT urea uniporter. It is this urea reabsorbed in the inner medulla that leads to the high medullary interstitial concentration, driving urea secretion into the thin regions of the loop of Henle.