Three-dimensional architecture of inner medullary vasa recta

Thomas L. Pannabecker, William H. Dantzler

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71 Scopus citations


The manner in which vasa recta function and contribute to the concentrating mechanism depends on their three-dimensional relationships to each other and to tubular elements. We have examined the three-dimensional architecture of vasculature relative to tubular structures in the central region of rat kidney inner medulla from the base through the first 3 mm by combining immunohistochemistry and semiautomated image acquisition techniques with graphical modeling software. Segments of descending vasa recta (DVR), ascending vasa recta (AVR), descending thin limb (DTL), ascending thin limb (ATL), and collecting duct (CD) were identified with antibodies against segment-specific proteins associated with solute and water transport (urea channel B, PV-1, aquaporin-1, ClC-K1, aquaporin-2, respectively) by immunofluorescence. Results indicate: 1) DVR, like DTLs, are excluded from CD clusters that we have previously shown to be the organizing element for the inner medulla; 2) AVR, like ATLs, are nearly uniformly distributed transversely across the entire inner medulla outside of and within CD clusters; 3) DVR and AVR outside CD clusters appear to be sufficiently juxtaposed to permit good countercurrent exchange; 4) within CD clusters, about four AVR closely abut each CD, surrounding it in a highly symmetrical fashion; and 5) AVR abutting each CD and ATLs within CD clusters form repeating nodal interstitial spaces bordered by a CD on one side, one or more ATLs on the opposite side, and one AVR on each of the other two sides. These relationships may be highly significant for both establishing and maintaining the inner medullary osmotic gradient.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)F1355-F1366
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Renal Physiology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2006


  • Aquaporin
  • ClC-K
  • Concentrating mechanism
  • Countercurrent multiplier
  • PV-1
  • Three-dimensional reconstruction
  • Urea channel B
  • Vasa recta
  • αB-crystallin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Urology


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