Kidney Cortex


Image caption : Kidney Cortex, cross section : The cortex is the outermost region of the kidney. It is densely packed with winding blood vessels, convoluted tubules, and collecting ducts.

Kidneys

The kidneys are the primary organs of the urinary system. The kidneys are the organs that filter the blood, remove the wastes, and excrete the wastes in the urine. They are the organs that perform the functions of the urinary system. The other components are accessory structures to eliminate the urine from the body.

The paired kidneys are located between the twelfth thoracic and third lumbar vertebrae, one on each side of the vertebral column. The right kidney usually is slightly lower than the left because the liver displaces it downward. The kidneys, protected by the lower ribs, lie in shallow depressions against the posterior abdominal wall and behind the parietal peritoneum. This means they are retroperitoneal. Each kidney is held in place by connective tissue, called renalfascia, and is surrounded by a thick layer of adipose tissue, called perirenal fat, which helps to protect it. A tough, fibrous, connective tissue renal capsule closely envelopes each kidney and provides support for the soft tissue that is inside.

In the adult, each kidney is approximately 3 cm thick, 6 cm wide, and 12 cm long. It is roughly bean-shaped with an indentation, called the hilum, on the medial side. The hilum leads to a large cavity, called the renal sinus, within the kidney. The ureter and renal vein leave the kidney, and the renal artery enters the kidney at the hilum.

Illustration of a kidney

The outer, reddish region, next to the capsule, is the renal cortex. This surrounds a darker reddish-brown region called the renal medulla. The renal medulla consists of a series of renal pyramids, which appear striated because they contain straight tubular structures and blood vessels. The wide bases of the pyramids are adjacent to the cortex and the pointed ends, called renal papillae, are directed toward the center of the kidney. Portions of the renal cortex extend into the spaces between adjacent pyramids to form renal columns. The cortex and medulla make up the parenchyma, or functional tissue, of the kidney.

The central region of the kidney contains the renal pelvis, which is located in the renal sinus, and is continuous with the ureter. The renal pelvis is a large cavity that collects the urine as it is produced. The periphery of the renal pelvis is interrupted by cuplike projections called calyces. A minor calyx surrounds the renal papillae of each pyramid and collects urine from that pyramid. Several minor calyces converge to form a major calyx. From the major calyces, the urine flows into the renal pelvis; and from there, it flows into the ureter.

Each kidney contains over a million functional units, called nephrons, in the parenchyma (cortex and medulla). A nephron has two parts: a renal corpuscle and a renal tubule.The renal corpuscle consists of a cluster of capillaries, called the glomerulus, surrounded by a double-layered epithelial cup, called the glomerular capsule. An afferent arteriole leads into the renal corpuscle and an efferent arteriole leaves the renal corpuscle. Urine passes from the nephrons into collecting ducts then into the minor calyces.

The juxtaglomerular apparatus, which monitors blood pressure and secretes renin, is formed from modified cells in the afferent arteriole and the ascending limb of the nephron loop.

National Cancer Institute / NIH

What are the kidneys and what do they do?

The kidneys are two bean-shaped organs, each about the size of a fist. They are located just below the rib cage, one on each side of the spine. Every day, the two kidneys filter about 120 to 150 quarts of blood to produce about 1 to 2 quarts of urine, composed of wastes and extra fluid. The urine flows from the kidneys to the bladder through two thin tubes of muscle called ureters, one on each side of the bladder. The bladder stores urine. The muscles of the bladder wall remain relaxed while the bladder fills with urine. As the bladder fills to capacity, signals sent to the brain tell a person to find a toilet soon. When the bladder empties, urine flows out of the body through a tube called the urethra, located at the bottom of the bladder. In men the urethra is long, while in women it is short.

Why are the kidneys important?

The kidneys are important because they keep the composition, or makeup, of the blood stable, which lets the body function. They

  • prevent the buildup of wastes and extra fluid in the body
  • keep levels of electrolytes stable, such as sodium, potassium, and phosphate
  • make hormones that help
    • regulate blood pressure
    • make red blood cells
    • bones stay strong

How do the kidneys work?

The kidney is not one large filter. Each kidney is made up of about a million filtering units called nephrons. Each nephron filters a small amount of blood. The nephron includes a filter, called the glomerulus, and a tubule. The nephrons work through a two-step process. The glomerulus lets fluid and waste products pass through it; however, it prevents blood cells and large molecules, mostly proteins, from passing. The filtered fluid then passes through the tubule, which sends needed minerals back to the bloodstream and removes wastes. The final product becomes urine

Drawing of the kidney. Blood with wastes enters the kidney, filtered blood exits, and wastes go to the bladder. Inset shows a nephron with glomerulus and tubule.Each kidney is made up of about a million filtering units called nephrons.

Points to Remember

  • Every day, the two kidneys filter about 120 to 150 quarts of blood to produce about 1 to 2 quarts of urine, composed of wastes and extra fluid.
  • The kidneys are important because they keep the composition, or makeup, of the blood stable, which lets the body function.
  • Each kidney is made up of about a million filtering units called nephrons. The nephron includes a filter, called the glomerulus, and a tubule.
  • The nephrons work through a two-step process. The glomerulus lets fluid and waste products pass through it; however, it prevents blood cells and large molecules, mostly proteins, from passing. The filtered fluid then passes through the tubule, which sends needed minerals back to the bloodstream and removes wastes.

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases / NIH

NIDDK / NIH

The renal cortex is the outer portion of the kidney between the renal capsule and the renal medulla. In the adult, it forms a continuous smooth outer zone with a number of projections (cortical columns) that extend down between the pyramids. It contains the renal corpuscles and the renal tubules except for parts of the loop of Henle which descend into the renal medulla. It also contains blood vessels and cortical collecting ducts.

The renal cortex is the part of the kidney where ultrafiltration occurs. Erythropoietin is produced in the renal cortex.



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