Roles and mechanisms of urinary buffer excretion

Am J Physiol. 1987 Oct;253(4 Pt 2):F595-605. doi: 10.1152/ajprenal.1987.253.4.F595.


Excretion of acid (or generation of bicarbonate) by the kidneys is necessary for acid-base homeostasis. Most of this acid is excreted in the form of ammonia and titratable acid, the latter representing the amount of acid required to titrate the urine buffers from the plasma pH to urine pH. The transport of ammonia in the kidney is now recognized to entail more than simple nonionic diffusion of NH3 and trapping of NH4+. NH4+ transport in the kidney probably occurs by passive diffusion and by transport on the Na+-H+ exchanger, the Na+-K+-2Cl- transporter and on Na+-K+-ATPase. NH3 diffusion is stimulated by an acid disequilibrium pH in various nephron segments. Also, diffusion equilibrium of NH3 in various regions of the kidney has now been disproved. These various mechanisms of ammonia transport are considered in terms of their possible changes with acid-base disturbances. Phosphate is the most predominant urine buffer; its urinary excretion increases with acidosis. The mechanisms probably involve a decrease in the preferentially transported species, HPO4(2-), and a direct effect of pH on proximal tubule apical phosphate transport. With chronic acidosis, changes in the activity of the apical Na+-phosphate transporter occur. These effects of systemic acid-base balance interact with parathyroid hormone and dietary phosphate status to alter phosphate reabsorption. Citrate transport in the kidney is analyzed because of its sensitivity to systemic pH and because of the possible influence on systemic acid-base status in certain circumstances. Alterations in citrate excretion with acid-base disturbances depend on changes in the concentration of the transported species, citrate2-, and on changes in renal metabolism.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acid-Base Equilibrium*
  • Ammonia / urine
  • Animals
  • Biological Transport, Active
  • Buffers
  • Citrates / urine
  • Citric Acid
  • Homeostasis
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Kidney Cortex / metabolism
  • Kidney Medulla / metabolism
  • Models, Biological
  • Phosphates / metabolism
  • Urine*


  • Buffers
  • Citrates
  • Phosphates
  • Citric Acid
  • Ammonia