Kidney: Wikis


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Latin = ren
Human kidneys viewed from behind with spine removed
Lamb kidneys
Gray's subject #253 1215
Artery renal artery
Vein renal vein
Nerve renal plexus
MeSH Kidney
Dorlands/Elsevier Kidney

The kidneys are paired organs with several functions. They are seen in many types of animals, including vertebrates and some invertebrates. They are an essential part of the urinary system and also serve homeostatic functions such as the regulation of electrolytes, maintenance of acid-base balance, and regulation of blood pressure. In producing urine, the kidneys excrete wastes such as urea and ammonium; the kidneys also are responsible for the reabsorption of water, glucose, and amino acids. The kidneys also produce hormones including calcitriol, renin, and erythropoietin.

Located behind the abdominal cavity in the retroperitoneum, the kidneys receive blood from the paired renal arteries, and drain into the paired renal veins. Each kidney excretes urine into a ureter, itself a paired structure that empties into the urinary bladder.

Renal physiology is the study of kidney function, while nephrology is the medical specialty concerned with kidney diseases. Diseases of the kidney are diverse, but individuals with kidney disease frequently display characteristic clinical features. Common clinical conditions involving the kidney include the nephritic and nephrotic syndromes, renal cysts, acute kidney injury, chronic kidney disease, urinary tract infection, nephrolithiasis, and urinary tract obstruction.[1] Various cancers of the kidney exist; the most common adult renal cancer is renal cell carcinoma. Cancers, cysts, and some other renal conditions can be managed with removal of the kidney, or nephrectomy. When renal function, measured by glomerular filtration rate, is persistently poor, dialysis and kidney transplantation may be treatment options.





In humans, the kidneys are located behind the abdominal cavity, in a space called the retroperitoneum. There are two, one on each side of the spine; they are approximately at the vertebral level T12 to L3.[2] The right kidney sits just below the diaphragm and posterior to the liver, the left below the diaphragm and posterior to the spleen. Resting on top of each kidney is an adrenal gland. The asymmetry within the abdominal cavity caused by the liver typically results in the right kidney being slightly lower than the left, and left kidney being located slightly more medial than the right.[3][4] The upper (cranial) parts of the kidneys are partially protected by the eleventh and twelfth ribs, and each whole kidney and adrenal gland are surrounded by two layers of fat (the perirenal and pararenal fat) and the renal fascia. Each adult kidney weighs between 125 and 170 grams in males and between 115 and 155 grams in females.[2] The left kidney is typically slightly larger than the right.[5]


1. Renal pyramid • 2. Interlobar artery • 3. Renal artery • 4. Renal vein 5. Renal hilum • 6. Renal pelvis • 7. Ureter • 8. Minor calyx • 9. Renal capsule • 10. Inferior renal capsule • 11. Superior renal capsule • 12. Interlobar vein • 13. Nephron • 14. Minor calyx • 15. Major calyx • 16. Renal papilla • 17. Renal column

The kidney has a bean-shaped structure, each kidney has concave and convex surfaces. The concave surface, the renal hilum, is the point at which the renal artery enters the organ, and the renal vein and ureter leave. The kidney is surrounded by tough fibrous tissue, the renal capsule, which is itself surrounded by perinephric fat, renal fascia (of Gerota) and paranephric fat. The anterior (front) border of these tissues is the peritoneum, while the posterior (rear) border is the transversalis fascia.

The superior border of the right kidney is adjacent to the liver; and the spleen, for the left border. Therefore, both move down on inspiration.

The substance, or parenchyma, of the kidney is divided into two major structures: superficial is the renal cortex and deep is the renal medulla. Grossly, these structures take the shape of 8 to 18 cone-shaped renal lobes, each containing renal cortex surrounding a portion of medulla called a renal pyramid (of Malpighi).[2] Between the renal pyramids are projections of cortex called renal columns (of Bertin). Nephrons, the urine-producing functional structures of the kidney, span the cortex and medulla. The initial filtering portion of a nephron is the renal corpuscle, located in the cortex, which is followed by a renal tubule that passes from the cortex deep into the medullary pyramids. Part of the renal cortex, a medullary ray is a collection of renal tubules that drain into a single collecting duct.

The tip, or papilla, of each pyramid empties urine into a minor calyx, minor calyces empty into major calyces, and major calyces empty into the renal pelvis, which becomes the ureter.

Blood supply

The kidneys receive blood from the renal arteries, left and right, which branch directly from the abdominal aorta. Despite their relatively small size, the kidneys receive approximately 20% of the cardiac output.[2]

Each renal artery branches into segmental arteries, dividing further into interlobar arteries which penetrate the renal capsule and extend through the renal columns between the renal pyramids. The interlobar arteries then supply blood to the arcuate arteries that run through the boundary of the cortex and the medulla. Each arcuate artery supplies several interlobular arteries that feed into the afferent arterioles that supply the glomeruli.

After filtration occurs the blood moves through a small network of venules that converge into interlobular veins. As with the arteriole distribution the veins follow the same pattern, the interlobular provide blood to the arcuate veins then back to the interlobar veins which come to form the renal vein exiting the kidney for transfusion for blood.


Microscopic photograph of the renal medulla.
Microscopic photograph of the renal cortex.

Renal histology studies the structure of the kidney as viewed under a microscope. Various distinct cell types occur in the kidney, including:


The kidney and nervous system communicate via the renal plexus, whose fibers course along the renal arteries to reach the kidney.[6] Input from the sympathetic nervous system triggers vasoconstriction in the kidney, thereby reducing renal blood flow.[6] The kidney is not thought to receive input from the parasympathetic nervous system.[6] Sensory input from the kidney travels to the T10-11 levels of the spinal cord and is sensed in the corresponding dermatome.[6] Thus, pain in the flank region may be referred from the kidney.[6]


The kidney participates in whole-body homeostasis, regulating acid-base balance, electrolyte concentrations, extracellular fluid volume, and regulation of blood pressure. The kidney accomplishes these homeostatic functions both independently and in concert with other organs, particularly those of the endocrine system. Various endocrine hormones coordinate these endocrine functions; these include renin, angiotensin II, aldosterone, antidiuretic hormone, and atrial natriuretic peptide, among others.

Many of the kidney's functions are accomplished by relatively simple mechanisms of filtration, reabsorption, and secretion, which take place in the nephron. Filtration, which takes place at the renal corpuscle, is the process by which cells and large proteins are filtered from the blood to make an ultrafiltrate that will eventually become urine. The kidney generates 180 liters of filtrate a day, while reabsorbing a large percentage, allowing for only the generation of approximately 2 liters of urine. Reabsorption is the transport of molecules from this ultrafiltrate and into the blood. Secretion is the reverse process, in which molecules are transported in the opposite direction, from the blood into the urine.

Excretion of wastes

The kidneys excrete a variety of waste products produced by metabolism. These include the nitrogenous wastes urea, from protein catabolism, and uric acid, from nucleic acid metabolism.

Acid-base homeostasis

Two organ systems, the kidneys and lungs, maintain acid-base homeostasis, which is the maintenance of pH around a relatively stable value. The kidneys contribute to acid-base homeostasis by regulating bicarbonate (HCO3-) concentration.

Osmolality regulation

Any significant rise or drop in plasma osmolality is detected by the hypothalamus, which communicates directly with the posterior pituitary gland. A rise in osmolality causes the gland to secrete antidiuretic hormone (ADH), resulting in water reabsorption by the kidney and an increase in urine concentration. The two factors work together to return the plasma osmolality to its normal levels.

ADH binds to principal cells in the collecting duct that translocate aquaporins to the membrane allowing water to leave the normally impermeable membrane and be reabsorbed into the body by the vasa recta, thus increasing the plasma volume of the body.

There are two systems that create a hyperosmotic medulla and thus increase the body plasma volume: Urea recycling and the 'single effect.'

Urea is usually excreted as a waste product from the kidneys. However, when plasma blood volume is low and ADH is released the aquaporins that are opened are also permeable to urea. This allows urea to leave the collecting duct into the medulla creating a hyperosmotic solution that 'attracts' water. Urea can then re-enter the nephron and be excreted or recycled again depending on whether ADH is still present or not.

The 'Single effect' describes the fact that the ascending thick limb of the loop of Henle is not permeable to water but is permeable to NaCl. This means that a countercurrent system is created whereby the medulla becomes increasingly concentrated setting up an osmotic gradient for water to follow should the aquaporins of the collecting duct be opened by ADH.

Blood pressure regulation

Long-term regulation of blood pressure predominantly depends upon the kidney. This primarily occurs through maintenance of the extracellular fluid compartment, the size of which depends on the plasma sodium concentration. Although the kidney cannot directly sense blood pressure, changes in the delivery of sodium and chloride to the distal part of the nephron alter the kidney's secretion of the enzyme renin. When the extracellular fluid compartment is expanded and blood pressure is high, the delivery of these ions is increased and renin secretion is decreased. Similarly, when the extracellular fluid compartment is contracted and blood pressure is low, sodium and chloride delivery is decreased and renin secretion is increased in response.

Renin is the first in a series of important chemical messengers that comprise the renin-angiotensin system. Changes in renin ultimately alter the output of this system, principally the hormones angiotensin II and aldosterone. Each hormone acts via multiple mechanisms, but both increase the kidney's absorption of sodium chloride, thereby expanding the extracellular fluid compartment and raising blood pressure. When renin levels are elevated, the concentrations of angiotensin II and aldosterone increase, leading to increased sodium chloride reabsorption, expansion of the extracellular fluid compartment, and an increase in blood pressure. Conversely, when renin levels are low, angiotensin II and aldosterone levels decrease, contracting the extracellular fluid compartment, and decreasing blood pressure.

Hormone secretion

The kidneys secrete a variety of hormones, including erythropoietin, calcitriol, and renin. Erythropoietin is released in response to hypoxia (low levels of oxygen) in the renal circulation. It stimulates erythropoiesis (production of red blood cells) in the bone marrow. Calcitriol, the activated form of vitamin D, promotes intestinal absorption of calcium and the renal excretion of phosphate. Part of the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system, renin is an enzyme involved in the regulation of aldosterone levels.


The mammalian kidney develops from intermediate mesoderm. Kidney development, also called nephrogenesis, proceeds through a series of three successive phases, each marked by the development of a more advanced pair of kidneys: the pronephros, mesonephros, and metanephros.[7]

Evolutionary adaptation

Kidneys of various animals show evidence of evolutionary adaptation and have long been studied in ecophysiology and comparative physiology. Kidney morphology, often indexed as the relative medullary thickness, is associated with habitat aridity among species of mammals.[8]


Medical terms related to the kidneys commonly use terms such as renal and the prefix nephro-. The adjective renal, meaning related to the kidney, is from the Latin rēnēs, meaning kidneys; the prefix nephro- is from the Ancient Greek word for kidney, nephros (νεφρός).[9] For example, surgical removal of the kidney is a nephrectomy, while a reduction in kidney function is called renal dysfunction.

Diseases and disorders



Drawing of an enlarged kidney by John Hunter.

Kidney failure

Generally, humans can live normally with just one kidney, as one has more functioning renal tissue than is needed to survive. Only when the amount of functioning kidney tissue is greatly diminished will chronic kidney disease develop. Renal replacement therapy, in the form of dialysis or kidney transplantation, is indicated when the glomerular filtration rate has fallen very low or if the renal dysfunction leads to severe symptoms.

In other animals

A pig's kidney opened.

In the majority of vertebrates, the mesonephros persists into the adult, albeit usually fused with the more advanced metanephros; only in amniotes is the mesonephros restricted to the embryo. The kidneys of fish and amphibians are typically narrow, elongated organs, occupying a significant portion of the trunk. The collecting ducts from each cluster of nephrons usually drain into an archinephric duct, which is homologous with the vas deferens of amniotes. However, the situation is not always so simple; in cartilaginous fish and some amphibians, there is also a shorter duct, similar to the amniote ureter, which drains the posterior (metanephric) parts of the kidney, and joins with the archinephric duct at the bladder or cloaca. Indeed, in many cartilaginous fish, the anterior portion of the kidney may degenerate or cease to function altogether in the adult.[10]

In the most primitive vertebrates, the hagfish and lampreys, the kidney is unusually simple: it consists of a row of nephrons, each emptying directly into the archinephric duct. Invertebrates may possess excretory organs that are sometimes referred to as "kidneys", but, even in Amphioxus, these are never homologous with the kidneys of vertebrates, and are more accurately referred to by other names, such as nephridia.[10]

The kidneys of reptiles consist of a number of lobules arranged in a broadly linear pattern. Each lobule contains a single branch of the ureter in its centre, into which the collecting ducts empty. Reptiles have relatively few nephrons compared with other amniotes of a similar size, possibly because of their lower metabolic rate.[10]

Birds have relatively large, elongated kidneys, each of which is divided into three or more distinct lobes. The lobes consists of several small, irregularly arranged, lobules, each centred on a branch of the ureter. Birds have small glomeruli, but about twice as many nephrons as similarly sized mammals.[10]

The human kidney is fairly typical of that of mammals. Distinctive features of the mammalian kidney, in comparison with that of other vertebrates, include the presence of the renal pelvis and renal pyramids, and of a clearly distinguishable cortex and medulla. The latter feature is due to the presence of elongated loops of Henle; these are much shorter in birds, and not truly present in other vertebrates (although the nephron often has a short intermediate segment between the convoluted tubules). It is only in mammals that the kidney takes on its classical "kidney" shape, although there are some exceptions, such as the multilobed reniculate kidneys of cetaceans.[10]


The Latin term renes is related to the English word "reins", a synonym for the kidneys in Shakespearean English (eg. Merry Wives of Windsor 3.5), which was also the time the King James Version was translated. Kidneys were once popularly regarded as the seat of the conscience and reflection[11][12], and a number of verses in the Bible (eg. Ps. 7:9, Rev. 2:23) state that God searches out and inspects the kidneys, or "reins", of humans. Similarly, the Talmud (Berakhoth 61.a) states that one of the two kidneys counsels what is good, and the other evil.

Animal kidneys as food

Hökarpanna, Swedish pork and kidney stew

The kidneys of animals can be cooked and eaten by humans (along with other offal).

Kidneys are usually grilled or sautéed, but in more complex dishes they are stewed with a sauce that will improve their flavor. In many preparations kidneys are combined with pieces of meat or liver, like in mixed grill or in Meurav Yerushalmi. Among the most reputed kidney dishes, the British Steak and kidney pie, the Swedish Hökarpanna (pork and kidney stew), the French Rognons de veau sauce moutarde (veal kidneys in mustard sauce) and the Spanish "Riñones al Jerez" (kidneys stewed in sherry sauce), deserve special mention.[13]

See also


  1. ^ Cotran, RS S.; Kumar, Vinay; Fausto, Nelson; Robbins, Stanley L.; Abbas, Abul K. (2005). Robbins and Cotran pathologic basis of disease. St. Louis, MO: Elsevier Saunders. ISBN 0-7216-0187-1. 
  2. ^ a b c d Walter F., PhD. Boron (2004). Medical Physiology: A Cellular And Molecular Approach. Elsevier/Saunders. ISBN 1-4160-2328-3. 
  3. ^ "Kidneys Location Stock Illustration". 
  4. ^
  5. ^ Glodny B, Unterholzner V, Taferner B, et al. (2009). "Normal kidney size and its influencing factors - a 64-slice MDCT study of 1.040 asymptomatic patients". BMC Urology 9: 19. doi:10.1186/1471-2490-9-19. PMID 20030823. PMC 2813848. 
  6. ^ a b c d e Bard, Johnathan; Vize, Peter D.; Woolf, Adrian S. (2003). The kidney: from normal development to congenital disease. Boston: Academic Press. pp. 154. ISBN 0-12-722441-6. 
  7. ^ Bruce M. Carlson (2004). Human Embryology and Developmental Biology (3rd edition ed.). Saint Louis: Mosby. ISBN 0-323-03649-X. 
  8. ^ Al-kahtani, M. A.; C. Zuleta, E. Caviedes-Vidal, and T. Garland, Jr. (2004). "Kidney mass and relative medullary thickness of rodents in relation to habitat, body size, and phylogeny". Physiological and Biochemical Zoology 77: 346–365. 
  9. ^ Maton, Anthea; Jean Hopkins, Charles William McLaughlin, Susan Johnson, Maryanna Quon Warner, David LaHart, Jill D. Wright (1993). Human Biology and Health. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, USA: Prentice Hall. ISBN 0-13-981176-1. 
  10. ^ a b c d e Romer, Alfred Sherwood; Parsons, Thomas S. (1977). The Vertebrate Body. Philadelphia, PA: Holt-Saunders International. pp. 367–376. ISBN 0-03-910284-X. 
  11. ^ The Patient as Person: Explorations in Medical Ethics p. 60 by Paul Ramsey, Margaret Farley, Albert Jonsen, William F. May (2002)
  12. ^ History of Nephrology 2 p. 235 by International Association for the History of Nephrology Congress, Garabed Eknoyan, Spyros G. Marketos, Natale G. De Santo - 1997; Reprint of American Journal of Nephrology; v. 14, no. 4-6, 1994.
  13. ^ Rognons dans les recettes (French)

External links

Simple English

Kidney from Gray's Anatomy

Kidneys are two organs in the abdomen of vertebrates that are shaped like beans. They make urine (the yellow waste water that comes out of the urethra.) They are part of the urinary system. When medical professionals discuss the kidneys, they typically refer to the word renal. For example, renal failure is when the kidneys are sick and do not work.

The prefix nephro- is also used in words to mean "kidneys". For example, a nephrologist is a doctor who studies kidneys.


= Makes hormones

= The kidney makes hormones. The two most important ones that it makes are erythropoetin and renin.

Erythropoetin is made by the kidneys if there is less oxygen in the kidney. Erythropoetin tells the bone marrow to make more red blood cells. Red blood cells carry oxygen in the blood. So this means there will be more oxygen carried in the blood.

Renin is made by the kidney if there is low blood pressure, low volume of blood, or too low salts in the blood. Renin tells the blood vessels to be smaller. It tells the adrenal gland to make aldosterone (which tells the kidneys to save salts). It tells the body to drink more water. All of this makes the blood pressure go up.

Keeps homeostasis

The kidney's most important work is keeping homeostasis. Homeostasis means that the body keeps a stable environment inside itself. The body wants to have the same amount of water, salt, and acid in the blood. This makes the body work better. The kidney keeps these things constant.

If there is too much water, the kidney puts more water in the urine. If there is not enough water, the kidney puts less water in the urine. This is why people make less urine when they are dehydrated (have not enough water in the body and are thirsty).

Kidney diseases

There are many types of kidney diseases. If kidney disease makes the kidneys not able to do but they do work in part. People can have mild renal failure and have no symptoms. As long as it does not become worse, people may not even know they have it. Severe renal failure means very bad failure. The kidneys do not work very much at all. People with severe renal failure always have symptoms. They may need special care from doctors

The main kinds of kidney diseases are:

  • Kidney stones – this is when a solid substance forms in the urine. This stone moves through the urinary system until it cannot go more, because it is too big to go through. Then it stops the urine flow. This usually causes very bad pains. After a time, the stone usually goes out or passes. If it does not go out, doctors may have to help it.
  • Kidney infections – also called pyelonephritis. This is when a bacteria grows in the kidney. Symptoms are back pain, vomiting, fever, and dark or bloody urine. People with pyelonephritis need strong antibiotic medicines to kill the bacteria.
  • Glomerulonephritis – this is a disease of the small things in the kidney that make the urine. These are called glomeruli. Glomerulonephritis is an autoimmune disease. It makes it so that the kidneys do not work well. It can cause mild or severe renal failure.
  • Congenital kidney disease – this is when people are born with kidneys that do not work right. Sometimes people are born with kidneys that are in the wrong place, or do not have the right shape. About 1% of people are born with only one kidney.
  • Polycystic kidney disease - this is an inherited disorder in which cysts grow in the kidneys, and destroy the kidney tissue until the kidneys can no longer perform their functions.
  • Diabetic nephropathy – this is the disease diabetics get when their blood sugar is very high for a long time. This is one of the most common causes of kidney failure in the United States
  • Hypertensive nephropathy – this is the disease people with hypertension (high blood pressure) get when their blood pressure is high for a long time. Many people have hypertensive and diabetic nephropathy together.
  • CancerRenal cell carcinoma is the most common kind of kidney cancer. It is most often in adults. It is a very bad cancer. It is hard to stop it with radiation treatments or chemotherapy.

Renal replacement

People who do not have good kidneys are very sick. If they have severe renal failure, they cannot live unless they have a replacement for their kidneys. Replacement is something that takes the place of something else.

There are two ways to replace the kidneys: dialysis and transplantation

Kidney dialysis

Dialysis is when doctors use a machine and medicines to do the work that kidneys do. There are two kinds of dialysis: hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis.

Peritoneal dialysis is when doctors put a plastic tube into the persons abdomen. Every day the person fills the abdomen with fluid. The extra salts, waste, and water that the body does not need goes into the fluid. Then the fluid comes out and takes the wastes with it. This does part of the job that kidneys do.

Hemodialysis is when doctors take blood from a person, clean the blood with a special kind of filter, called haemodialyser, managed through a special machine, and put it back in the person. When the blood is cleaned, water, salts, and wastes are taken out of it. This must be done 2-4 times every week (usually 3 times.) It takes 2-4 hours to do this each time.

Hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis are not perfect. They do some of the work of the kidney, but it is not as good as a real kidney. So people who need dialysis are not as healthy. They must take medicines also. For example, in kidney failure, the kidneys do not make erythropoetin. So doctors have to give people erythropoetin so they make enough red blood cells.


A better way to do the kidneys' work is to give the person another kidney. This is called a renal transplant. Kidney transplants are the most common organ transplant that happens. It is more common because we have two kidneys, but only need one kidney to live. People who are alive can donate a kidney to another person. With other organs, the donor must be dead first.

Even transplants are not the same as kidneys people were born with. A person who gets a renal transplants must take strong medicines to stop their body from attacking the new kidney. Sometimes, after years, the transplanted kidney stops working. But sometimes a patient can get a new transplanted kidney after the first one stops working.


It was widely believed in Europe that the conscience was actually located in the kidneys. This idea was taken from the Hebrew Bible. In modern times, medical scientists have shown kidneys do not have this kind of psychological role.

Urinary system (edit)
Kidneys | Ureters | Urinary bladder | Urethral sphincters | Urethra


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