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Structural evidence for counter-current flow in proximal tubules versus peritubular capillaries in the rat kidney: Evaluation of the counter-current mechanism between the proximal convoluted tubules and the peritubular capillaries in the rat nephron

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Background . In spite of the very high exchange of water and solutes between the proximal tubules and the peritubular capillaries, very little is known about flow directions in these two interrelated structures. We therefore developed a morphological technique suitable for the quantitative evaluation of a counter-current system between the proximal convoluted tubules and the peritubular capillaries in rat renal cortex.

Methods . In male pentothal-anesthetized Wistar rats (body weight 200–250 g), India ink was injected into the aorta above the renal arteries, followed by instant freezing of the right kidney in isopentane at −165 °C, and subsequent freeze-substitution in alcohol. In microscopic slides from kidneys in which only 20–55% of the cortical peritubular capillary loops was filled with ink – representing the arterial end of the capillaries – and in which the proximal tubular segmentation could be identified in PAS-stained sections, the segments of the convoluted proximal tubules were quantitatively compared with regard to the presence of ink-stained and unstained peritubular capillaries in nephrons from the whole renal cortex.

Results . In the microscopic specimens of the five animals used both the loops from the first segment (P1) of the proximal convoluted tubule and those of the second segment (P2) were systematically packed closely together, the transitional segment (P1–2) being interposed between the groups. Around the loops of P1, 8%±2% of the capillaries was stained with India ink. In contrast, surrounding the P2 loops 67%±5% of the capillaries contained ink, significantly exceeding that for P1 (p<0.01).

Conclusion . Throughout the rat renal cortex, the most proximal fraction of the peritubular capillaries surrounds the second segments of the proximal convoluted tubules, while the first tubular segments are surrounded by the more distal fraction of the peritubular capillaries. Consequently, the flows in the peritubular capillaries and in the proximal convoluted tubules in the rat renal cortex are systematically arranged as a counter-current system. This feature was previously identified only in superficial nephrons.

Keywords: Renal circulation; counter-current system; peritubular capillary; proximal tubule

Document Type: Original Article


Affiliations: 1: Molecular Pathology and 2: Physiology, Copenhagen, Denmark

Publication date: November 1, 2000


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