Two fluid compartments in the renal inner medulla: a view through the keyhole of the concentrating process
Approximately four decades ago, the countercurrent theory became influential in studies on the concentrating process in the mammalian kidney. The theory successfully represented the concentrating process in the outer medulla, but the problem of the concentrating mechanism in the inner medulla, as defined by Homer Smith has remained essentially intractable.In a recent comprehensive review by Knepper and coworkers of various theories and models, attention was refocused on the possible role of hyaluronate (HA) in the inner medullary concentrating process. The authors proposed a hypothesis that HA can convert hydrostatic pressure to concentrating work.Here, we briefly survey the earlier ideas on the role imputed to HA and present a new hypothesis which is different from that of Knepper and coworkers. We estimate that the hydrostatic pressures available in the inner medulla can account only for a very small fraction of the concentrating work. We hypothesize that the role of HA is tied up with extravasated plasma albumin and suggest that owing to the property of HA solutions to exclude other macromolecules, extravasated plasma albumin and HA constitute two fluid compartments in the interstitium in the inner medulla. In this proposed two-compartment model, the Gibbs-Donnan distribution influences the movement of ions and water between the HA and the extravasated albumin compartment.To relate the hypothetical role of HA to the concentrating process, we briefly describe new results obtained by other investigators on the accumulation of urea in the inner medulla. This subject has been critically reviewed recently by Yang & Bankir.Many processes have been identified as contributing to the concentrating process in the mammalian inner medulla. We speculate that among these many processes, the primary responsibility for the final concentration of the excreted urine may be portioned out differently in different mammalian species.