Cellular response to osmotic stress in the renal medulla

Pflugers Arch. 1998 Nov;436(6):814-27. doi: 10.1007/s004240050710.


Cells of the renal medulla, which are exposed under normal physiological conditions to widely fluctuating extracellular solute concentrations, respond to hypertonic stress by accumulating the organic osmolytes glycerophosphorylcholine (GPC), betaine, myo-inositol, sorbitol and free amino acids. Increased intracellular contents of these osmolytes are achieved by a combination of increased uptake (myo-inositol and betaine) and synthesis (sorbitol, possibly GPC), decreased degradation (GPC) and reduced osmolyte release. In the medulla of the concentrating kidney, accumulation of organic osmolytes, which do not perturb cell function even at high concentrations, allows the maintenance of "normal" intracellular concentrations of inorganic electrolytes. Adaptation to decreasing extracellular solute concentrations, e.g. diuresis, is achieved primarily by activation of pathways allowing the efflux of organic osmolytes, and secondarily by inactivation of production (sorbitol) and uptake (betaine, myo-inositol) and stimulation of degradation (GPC). Apart from modulation of the osmolyte content, osmolality-dependent reorganization of the cytoskeleton and expression of specific stress proteins (heat shock proteins) may be further, as yet poorly characterized, components of the regulatory systems involved in the adaptation of medullary cells to osmotic stress.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Animals
  • Diuresis
  • Extracellular Space
  • Heat-Shock Proteins / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hypertonic Solutions*
  • Kidney Medulla / cytology*
  • Kidney Medulla / physiology*
  • Kinetics


  • Heat-Shock Proteins
  • Hypertonic Solutions