Supportive Structures of the Nephron: Functions and Definitions

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

Some cells in the kidneys play roles in regulating blood pressure and kidney blood flow. Explore the functions of the supportive structures of the nephron, like the juxtaglomerular (JG) apparatus and its JG, macula densa, and mesangial cells. Updated: 08/26/2021

The Kidney and Red Blood Cells

You've probably heard that your kidneys are involved in the filtration of blood in order to produce urine. You're also likely aware that they are responsible for the regulation of water balance throughout your body. However, not many people know that your body would have trouble producing red blood cells without the kidneys. You might be thinking, 'Red blood cells? They are made in the bone marrow, not the kidneys!' Stick around to find out how specific cells in your kidneys are actually involved in all of these processes and why the kidneys are important in the prevention of anemia.

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  • 0:47 Juxtaglomerular Apparatus
  • 1:50 Juxtaglomerular Cells
  • 2:47 Macula Densa Cells
  • 3:56 Tubuloglomerular Feedback
  • 5:37 Mesangial Cells
  • 6:42 Lesson Summary
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Juxtaglomerular Apparatus

In between the renal corpuscle (the structure involved in the filtration of your blood) and the distal convoluted tubule are three main types of cells collectively referred to as the juxtaglomerular apparatus. Again, the juxtaglomerular apparatus is a collection of cells responsible for the hormonal regulation of the body's blood pressure, the kidney's blood flow, and the glomerular filtration rate.

It's easy to remember where the JG apparatus, short for 'juxtaglomerular apparatus,' is located. 'Juxta' means 'next to' and 'glomerular' refers to the 'glomerulus' - hence we get 'juxtaglomerular,' or an apparatus next to the glomerulus. You can think of the JG apparatus as a control center that allows a certain amount of blood to flow through the glomerulus and hence influence the glomerular filtration rate.

Juxtaglomerular Cells

The location of the juxtaglomerular cells in the kidney
Juxtaglomerular Cell Location

This control center has three main cells that are kind of like its employees. One of the employees is called a juxtaglomerular cell, which is sometimes also known as a 'granular cell.' The juxtaglomerular cells are cells of the juxtaglomerular apparatus that secrete renin, an enzyme that helps to increase your body's blood pressure once it is released.

These cells are mainly part of the afferent arterioles entering the glomerulus. If they sense decreased blood pressure at the afferent arteriole, are stimulated by the sympathetic nervous system, or are signaled about low sodium chloride concentrations by the macula densa cells of the JG apparatus, they will secrete renin to help increase the body's blood pressure.

Macula Densa Cells

The macula densa cells I just mentioned are another employee of the control center, the JG apparatus. The macula densa cells are cells that are also part of the distal convoluted tubule. This positioning is really important, for the macula densa cells are cells that monitor changes in sodium concentration in the kidney's distal convoluted tubules in order to regulate glomerular filtration rate.

When your blood is filtered by the glomerulus, small molecules like water, sodium, and chloride flow through the nephron of your kidney. The nephron has many structures, including the glomerulus and distal convoluted tubule involved in the JG apparatus.

Since water essentially follows sodium in your body like a tail follows its dog, the macula densa cells, by implication, can tell how much water is in the distal convoluted tubules by sensing how much sodium is in the distal convoluted tubules. I hope that wasn't too convoluted of an explanation.

The macula densa cells monitor sodium levels in the distal convoluted tubules
Macula Densa Cell Function

Tubuloglomerular Feedback

If there is too much sodium in the filtrate, the macula densa cells start to believe the glomerular filtration rate is too fast, leading to too much water being excreted by the body. This is bad, as it can lead to things like dehydration!

In this case, the macula densa cells cause the increase of a substance called adenosine, which constricts the afferent arteriole. Since the afferent arteriole constricts, little blood can enter the glomerulus. This then decreases the pressure inside of the glomerulus and therefore decreases the glomerular filtration rate back to normal in order to try and preserve fluid in your body.

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