Renal magnesium handling: new insights in understanding old problems

Kidney Int. 1997 Nov;52(5):1180-95. doi: 10.1038/ki.1997.443.


Recent research has provided new concepts in our understanding of renal magnesium handling. Although the majority of the filtered magnesium is reabsorbed within the loop of Henle, it is now recognized that the distal tubule also plays an important role in magnesium conservation. Magnesium absorption within the cTAL segment of the loop is passive and dependent on the transepithelial voltage. Magnesium transport in the DCT is active and transcellular in nature. Many of the hormonal (PTH, calcitonin, glucagon, AVP) and nonhormonal (magnesium-restriction, acid-base changes, potassium-depletion) influences that affect magnesium transport within the cTAL similarly alter magnesium absorption within the DCT. However, the cellular mechanisms are different. Actions within the loop affect either the transepithelial voltage or the paracellular permeability. Influences acting in the DCT involve changes in active transcellular transport either Mg2+ entry across the apical membrane or Mg2+ exit from the basolateral side. These transport processes are fruitful areas for future research. An additional regulatory control has recently been recognized that involves an extracellular Ca2+/Mg(2+)-sensing receptor. This receptor is present in the basolateral membrane of the TAL and DCT and modulates magnesium and calcium conservation with elevation in plasma divalent cation concentration. Further studies are warranted to determine the physiological role of the Ca2+/Mg(2+)-sensing receptor, but activating and inactivating mutations have been described that result in renal magnesium-wasting and hypermagnesemia, respectively. All of these receptor-mediated controls change calcium absorption in addition to magnesium transport. Selective magnesium control is through intrinsic control of Mg2+ entry into distal tubule cells. The cellular mechanisms that intrinsically regulate magnesium transport have yet to be described. Familial diseases associated with renal magnesium-wasting provide a unique opportunity to study these intrinsic controls. Loop diuretics such as furosemide increase magnesium excretion by virtue of its effects on the transepithelial voltage thereby inhibiting passive magnesium absorption. Distally acting diuretics, like amiloride and chlorothiazide, enhance Mg2+ entry into DCT cells. Amiloride may be used as a magnesium-conserving diuretic whereas chlorothiazide may lead to potassium-depletion that compromises renal magnesium absorption. Patients with Bartter's and Gitelman's syndromes, diseases of salt transport in the loop and distal tubule, respectively, are associated with disturbances in renal magnesium handling. These may provide useful lessons in understanding segmental control of magnesium reabsorption. Metabolic acidosis diminishes magnesium absorption in MDCT cells by protonation of the Mg2+ entry pathway. Metabolic alkalosis increases magnesium permeability across the cTAL paracellular pathway and stimulates Mg2+ entry into DCT cells. Again, these changes are likely due to protonation of charges along the paracellular pathway of the cTAL and the putative Mg2+ channel of the DCT. Cellular potassium-depletion diminishes the voltage-dependent magnesium absorption in the TAL and Mg2+ entry into MDCT cells. However, the relationship between potassium and magnesium balance is far from clear. For instance, magnesium-wasting is more commonly found in patients with Gitelman's disease than Bartter's but both have hypokalemia. Further studies are needed to sort out these discrepancies. Phosphate deficiency also decreases Mg2+ uptake in distal cells but it apparently does so by mechanisms other than those observed in potassium depletion. Accordingly, potassium depletion, phosphate deficiency, and metabolic acidosis may be additive. The means by which cellular potassium and phosphate alter magnesium handling are unclear. Research in the nineties has increased our understanding of renal magnesium transport and regulation, but there are many in

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Absorption
  • Acid-Base Imbalance / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Calcium / blood
  • Diuretics / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Hypokalemia / metabolism
  • Hypophosphatemia / metabolism
  • Kidney Tubules / metabolism*
  • Magnesium / metabolism*


  • Diuretics
  • Magnesium
  • Calcium