Tubule-tubule and tubule-arteriole contacts in rat kidney distal nephrons. A morphologic study based on computer-assisted three-dimensional reconstructions

Lab Invest. 1992 Dec;67(6):761-9.


Background: Functional investigations of the tubulo-glomerular feedback mechanism have indicated the existence of a contact between the distal nephron and the macula densa region. The structural justification of such a contact is investigated.

Experimental design: Tubule-tubule and tubule-arteriole contacts were investigated in distal nephrons from normal rat kidneys. Computer-assisted three-dimensional reconstructions of distal nephrons were made from serial sections of renal cortical tissue and selected sections were examined by electron microscopy.

Results: In 14 of 15 reconstructed nephrons, the distal convoluted tubule or the connecting tubule approached the macula densa region. A wall-to-wall contact between two tubules corresponding to a three-dimensional distance below 28 microns between the axes of the two tubules was found in only five of the reconstructed tubules. The distal nephron contacts to afferent and efferent arterioles of the same nephron were also examined. The efferent arteriole revealed no consistent contacts but the afferent arteriole contacted the distal convoluted tubule/connecting tubules consistently in all 10 of the superficial nephrons and in 3 of 5 midcortical nephrons. Electron microscopy confirmed a close contact between the distal tubule and the afferent arteriole in superficial nephrons and small nerves were often found at or near the site of contact, but the morphology at the site of contact was not unique. The arteriole contacts were made with late distal convoluted tubules, connecting tubules, or cortical collecting ducts.

Conclusions: In conclusion, the present study shows that tubule-tubule contacts are inconsistent between the macula densa region and the distal nephron but that the tubule-afferent arteriole contact is consistent and close in superficial nephrons. This morphology is compatible with the existence of a feedback mechanism between the superficial distal nephron and the afferent arteriole, apart from the one located at the juxtaglomerular apparatus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Kidney Tubules / cytology*
  • Kidney Tubules / physiology
  • Kidney Tubules / ultrastructure
  • Nephrons / cytology
  • Nephrons / physiology
  • Nephrons / ultrastructure
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar