Three-dimensional architecture of inner medullary vasa recta

Am J Physiol Renal Physiol. 2006 Jun;290(6):F1355-66. doi: 10.1152/ajprenal.00481.2005. Epub 2005 Dec 27.


The manner in which vasa recta function and contribute to the concentrating mechanism depends on their three-dimensional relationships to each other and to tubular elements. We have examined the three-dimensional architecture of vasculature relative to tubular structures in the central region of rat kidney inner medulla from the base through the first 3 mm by combining immunohistochemistry and semiautomated image acquisition techniques with graphical modeling software. Segments of descending vasa recta (DVR), ascending vasa recta (AVR), descending thin limb (DTL), ascending thin limb (ATL), and collecting duct (CD) were identified with antibodies against segment-specific proteins associated with solute and water transport (urea channel B, PV-1, aquaporin-1, ClC-K1, aquaporin-2, respectively) by immunofluorescence. Results indicate: 1) DVR, like DTLs, are excluded from CD clusters that we have previously shown to be the organizing element for the inner medulla; 2) AVR, like ATLs, are nearly uniformly distributed transversely across the entire inner medulla outside of and within CD clusters; 3) DVR and AVR outside CD clusters appear to be sufficiently juxtaposed to permit good countercurrent exchange; 4) within CD clusters, about four AVR closely abut each CD, surrounding it in a highly symmetrical fashion; and 5) AVR abutting each CD and ATLs within CD clusters form repeating nodal interstitial spaces bordered by a CD on one side, one or more ATLs on the opposite side, and one AVR on each of the other two sides. These relationships may be highly significant for both establishing and maintaining the inner medullary osmotic gradient.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Aquaporin 1 / analysis
  • Aquaporin 2 / analysis
  • Blood Vessels / anatomy & histology*
  • Chloride Channels / analysis
  • Fluorescent Antibody Technique
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Kidney Medulla / blood supply*
  • Kidney Tubules / anatomy & histology
  • Kidney Tubules, Collecting / anatomy & histology
  • Loop of Henle / anatomy & histology
  • Male
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Software


  • Aquaporin 2
  • Chloride Channels
  • Clcnka protein, rat
  • Aquaporin 1