Kidneys- counter current exchange mechanisms


Counter-current multiplier which takes place in the loop of Henle

The end result is to make the environment of the loop of Henle to be hypertonic. This environment is placed in the pyramids. As urine enters the descending limb of Henle's loop it carries both water and solute. It looses its water in this limb and when it gets to the counter limb at the thin ascending limb of Henle's loop it looses its solute rather than water because the membrane of this limb is impermeable to water. At the thick segment to the ascending limb of Henle's loop, the membrane is impermeable to both water and solute (Na+). Carrier transport mechanism then takes over to pump solute mainly Na+ ions outside using Na+- K+ ATPase.

Vasa recta: 1 ascending vasa recta 2 descending vasa recta; Na- sodium ions H- water


Vasa recta and exchanger

The counter-current exchanger mechanism which takes place in the vasa recta is simple enough and its main aim is to keep the hypertonic nature of the loop of Henle's environment. It works in the pyramids which already have become hypertonic. The ascending vasa recta absorbs the solutes using concentration gradient. The solutes are passed into the descending vasa recta and from there back into the pyramidal environment. Hence this counter-current system maintains the hypertonic nature of the environment of the pyramids thereby encouraging osmotic gradient to allow water to flow from the collecting ducts to the same environment. In effect it concentrates urine which otherwise would have been dilute and loose water.

Loop of Henle in counter-current multiplier system: H-water; Na+ represents solutes and Na+ ion:. 1 thick ascending segment of Henle's loop, 2 proximal convoluted tubule 3 thin ascending limb of loop of Henle 4 loop of Henle 5 thin descending limb of loop of Henle.

Cross section through the kidney x40












Cell Biology
Gross Anatomy
Lymphatic drainage
Organ integration
Clinical anatomy






Chemical Pathology

Anatomical Pathology






Vasa recta vessels


Counter-current multiplier system in the loop of Henle: H - water  Na represents Na+ and any other solute.



Gross anatomy




Main Subject Course Links

Anatomy Anesthesia Biochemistry Chemical pathology Community Health
Dermatology ENT Gynecology Hematology Imaging
Medicine Medical microbiology Obstetrics Ophthalmology Pathology
Pediatrics Pharmacology Physiology Psychiatry    Surgery/Orthopedics
eLab eOSCE eProcedures eInvestigations eSchool
eOrgans eLocator Anatomy Museum eDissector eFractures
All diseases eClerking eTreatment eDoctor ePatient



Electronic School of Medicine
Creator: Oluwole Ogunranti