Properties of the glomerular barrier and mechanisms of proteinuria

Physiol Rev. 2008 Apr;88(2):451-87. doi: 10.1152/physrev.00055.2006.


This review focuses on the intricate properties of the glomerular barrier. Other reviews have focused on podocyte biology, mesangial cells, and the glomerular basement membrane (GBM). However, since all components of the glomerular membrane are important for its function, proteinuria will occur regardless of which layer is affected by disease. We review the properties of endothelial cells and their surface layer, the GBM, and podocytes, discuss various methods of studying glomerular permeability, and analyze data concerning the restriction of solutes by size, charge, and shape. We also review the physical principles of transport across biological or artificial membranes and various theoretical models used to predict the fluxes of solutes and water. The glomerular barrier is highly size and charge selective, in qualitative agreement with the classical studies performed 30 years ago. The small amounts of albumin filtered will be reabsorbed by the megalin-cubulin complex and degraded by the proximal tubular cells. At present, there is no unequivocal evidence for reuptake of intact albumin from urine. The cellular components are the key players in restricting solute transport, while the GBM is responsible for most of the resistance to water flow across the glomerular barrier.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dextrans / metabolism
  • Diagnostic Techniques, Urological
  • Ficoll / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Kidney Glomerulus / metabolism
  • Kidney Glomerulus / physiology*
  • Kidney Glomerulus / ultrastructure
  • Models, Biological
  • Nephrotic Syndrome / physiopathology*
  • Permeability
  • Proteins / metabolism
  • Proteinuria / physiopathology*


  • Dextrans
  • Proteins
  • Ficoll